First State African American Heritage, Delaware History Museum now open
Delaware now has its own African American museum, connected to the Delaware Historical Society’s new Delaware History Museum which opens this weekend.
The overarching theme of the museum is: Delaware: One State, Many Stories. Delaware Historical Society’s Interim Chief Curator Leigh Rifenburg pointed out the first thing museum goers see: an interactive exhibit of diverse Delaware faces.
"We have some people who are famous, some people who aren’t," Rifenburg said. "Some people who will be very well known immediately, and some people who you’re really going to want to stand here and engage and flip the tiles so that you can see some information about each person.”
There are also tiles with mirrors, to further the museum’s theme that all Delawareans are part of the state’s history.
At least half of the museum is dedicated to First State African American History, from the history of slavery, Delaware’s role in Brown vs. Board of Education to Delaware’s original man of mystery Black Anthony.
Dr. Constance Cooper says Black Anthony is the first known African Delaware resident, and came to Delaware by way of one of the first Swedish ships to bring people to the First State.
“The first two ships – the Fogel Grip and the Kalmar Nyckel come in 1638 then the next year the Fogel Grip goes back on another journey. On the way back, they stop in the Caribbean and that’s where Black Anthony becomes part of the party," Cooper said.
Cooper adds he’s referred to as Black Anthony because of different records of names they’ve found for him.
The Delaware Historical Society’s new Delaware History Museum and Center for African American Heritage open Saturday with a block party. The re-imagined facility has been in the works for over a year, but the exhibitions didn’t get installed until recently.
The total cost for the project - from renovation and restoration of Old Town Hall, new construction and exhibits - came in at $7 million. $1.3 million of that came from the city and state, and 5.7 in private funding.
Rifenburg says the museum will be open to the public Saturday, and its kickoff event will feature some performers who are also part of the museum itself.
“We do have one of Wilmington’s well-known trumpeters Gerald Chavis whose trumpet actually appears in one of our cases here," Rifenburg said. "He’s going to be leading a procession down Market Street.”
The museum hopes to bring to light different Delaware stories, and their various iterations.
The top floor of the museum will be used for events, lectures and more. The museum will be open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.