Delaware officials agree: racism still a struggle

Mayor Dennis P. Williams speaks about racism in government

Mayor Dennis P. Williams speaks about racism in government

PHILADELPHIA – Delaware is still learning, healing and evolving to deal with racism and inequalities that still exists in the state, local officials said Monday night at the NAACP National Convention in Philadelphia.

Speaking at “Delaware Night” at the annual gathering, Gov. Jack Markell said there is still progress to be made in Delaware.

“There is a lot of healing that has to take palace in our state,” Markell said, the sounds of African drums playing in the background during the cocktail reception held at the African American Museum.

In the last year and a half of his administration, Markell said, he plans to be closely studying one of those issues that was raised by the NAACP last month – a decrease in racial diversity in state government employees.

“They have convinced me that we do have a problem,” Markell said.

Markell’s statement comes in response to findings from the NAACP of Delaware and the Interdenominational Ministers Action Council, which found that despite an executive order stating that there should be fair recruitment and promotional practices, the number of black and Hispanic employees chosen to fill managerial positions has decreased while the number of white managers increased.

“The state of Delaware has not been fair to blacks,” said Richard Smith, president of the state NAACP and host of the event.

The five-day annual NAACP convention is at Pennsylvania Convention Center. President Barack Obama is scheduled to offer remarks at the event on Tuesday.

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New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon speaks at Delaware Night during the NAACP conference in Philadelphia on Monday. “We’ve got a lot of issues facing us all over the country and Delaware is no exception,” Gordon said. (Photo: SAQUAN STIMPSON/SPECIAL TO THE NEWS JOURNAL)

The NAACP Bear Branch and NAACP Delaware State Conference hosted the Delaware Night event.

Markell said his administration has also focused on other initiatives striving for equality such as increasing access to quality early childhood education, reforming hiring practices so that more minority and black-owned businesses are doing work with the state, and reforming the incarceration system.

“Everybody, no matter where they come from, their race, religion, sexual orientation, whatever – everybody is entitled to go as far as their potential will take them,” Markell said. “We have to make sure that the reality reflects those values. I believe we need to make some additional progress on that.”

Markell and New Castle County Tom Gordon said that the NAACP is needed now more than ever to advocate for racial equality in Delaware.

Gordon applauded Smith for his work and advocacy over the years.

“We’ve got a lot of issues facing us all over the country and Delaware is no exception,” Gordon said.

Wilmington Mayor Dennis P. Williams said the state is coping with the same race-related issues as the rest of the country in the education and justice systems and as it relates to police-community relations.

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Wilmington Mayor Dennis P. Williams speaks during Delaware Night at the NAACP National Convention in Philadelphia on Monday night. The NAACP Bear Branch and NAACP Delaware State Conference hosted the event. (Photo: JENNA PIZZI/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

Another topic of conversation was the recent removal of the Confederate battle flag over at the Statehouse in South Carolina, which followed the killing of nine black worshipers at a Charleston church. The suspect charged in the shooting was shown in photographs with a Confederate flag.

“I am glad it was brought down,” Williams said. “The Confederate flag was actually an act of terrorism.”

Williams said monuments to those who fought in the Confederate Army, like one at a Georgetown museum which marks the names of those that fought or sympathized with the Confederate Army in Delaware, are different, but still show the same defiance.

“When people fight in wars – there is a monument,” Williams said. “Those people were still trying to overthrow the union. Most of the people who live here today are not standing for that.”

Contact Jenna Pizzi at jpizzi@delawareonline.com or (302) 324-2837. Folllow her on Twitter @JennaPizzi.