White was lynched in 1903, Delaware's only documented lynching
Exactly 116 years from the day he was lynched by an angry mob, the crime against George White was finally brought to light in June.
Six weeks later, the historic marker remembering White was stolen from Greenbank Park in Pike Creek.
Now a new marker, and a renewed spirit of freedom and justice, have made their debut.
On Sunday, Oct. 20, 17-year-old Sanford School senior Savanah Shepherd returned to Greenbank Park, accompanied by her family, Sen. Darius Brown, and numerous others to retell and remind the world about White and the injustice he endured.
Shepherd was instrumental in getting the marker placed, after learning about White’s death while visiting a memorial for lynching victims in Alabama.
When the marker went missing, Shepherd said she was shocked but never undeterred.
“It was just more time to show the community what we have and what we’re going to continue to do, and that’s spread the George White story,” she said.
A Wilmington area farm worker, White was accused of killing a local superintendent’s daughter.
Despite a lack of hard evidence linking White to the crime, word of mouth and vacationing judges lead to a summary sentencing, and White was incarcerated.
He was eventually broken out of jail and lynched - technically burned alive - by a hundred-strong mob of whites, most of them incensed by a provocative sermon delivered by Presbyterian Minister Rev. Robert Elwood.
Sunday’s ceremony took place under grey, rainy skies, and a heavy police presence, as at least four New Castle County Police vehicles were spotted either in the park or positioned just outside.
The speakers on Sunday all unanimously praised Shepherd for her accomplishments in getting the marker placed and replaced, and for her message of freedom and equality.
Delaware state archivist Stephen Marz called Shepherd and her efforts “steadfast and unmovable,” and the sole reason the monument exists today.
“People in communities like this contact us and say, ‘we think something important happened here,’ and that’s what Savannah did,” Marz said.
Clerk Bob Schminkey, of the New Castle Presbytery, called White’s death the church’s darkest hour.
“Yet we exonerated Rev. Elwood on most of the church’s charges against him,” Schminkey said.
Before offering a ceremonial benediction, Schminkey offered an apology for Elwood’s actions and on the church’s inaction in properly admonishing Elwood.
“Rev. Elwood is not representative of our church today, but we recognize he is part of our legacy,” Schminkey said. “We recommit ourselves to eradicating racism.”
Shepherd hopes people understand that it’s important to remember the past, even the dark, ugly side of history.
“Racial injustice is very much still a thing today – it’s not something of the past,” she said.
And while she isn’t personally afraid she may suffer the same fate, she wouldn’t be surprised if it happened today.
“There is a lot of hate, but I am ready every time, and I’ll come back stronger,” Shepherd said.
White’s death was one of an estimated 4,000 lynching deaths from 1877 to 1950 in 12 states, and another 300 in states not widely known for lynchings.
White’s lynching is the only known case in Delaware.
Soil from the site of White’s death was collected as part of the Equal Justice Initiative’s program to study and recognize lynchings throughout the country.
A representative from New Castle County police could not give additional information regarding the August theft, adding that it is still an active investigation.
Anyone with information is asked to contact county police at 302-573-2800.