1908 Race Riot in Rehoboth and Lewes, Delaware

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This August 1, 1908, newspaper article from The Baltimore Sun is the only article I have located so far on this incident.  If there are others, or other historical accounts of this, l would love to see them.  It seemed a shocking account, making me want to know more.

[Special Dispatch to the Baltimore Sun]  Lewes, Del., July 31 — A riot occurred between the soldiers of Camp Hall and colored excursionists at Rehoboth last night, in which one soldier’s skull was crushed and several others were injured, while a number of colored men were badly beaten.

Charles Ferguson, private of Company H, First Regiment, Delaware National Guard of New Castle, whose skull was crushed, is in a critical condition.  William Knox, a colored waiter, is badly bruised and injured internally.  Several other negroes were secretly carried to their homes.  The provost guard was called out to quell the riot, and many soldiers received slight wounds.  Governor Lea has authorized 15 warrants for members of Company H.

Yesterday was Governor’s Day at the soldiers’ encampment.  Thousands of visitors came in on the special excursions, and the beach was crowded.  At night in the bustle on the boardwalk one of the soldiers of Company H was jostled by a colored woman and accidentally trod on her foot.  The man with the girl began to shower the soldier with vile epithets, and the storm broke.  The man threw a brick and crushed the skull of the soldier.

The militiamen were so incensed at the attack that a hunt was started for the brick thrower.  Citizens joined in and a general riot started.

A negro was beaten into insensibility, several of them were picked up bodily and thrown from Horn’s pier overboard.  The colored people were badly frightened, and fled from the beach.  Many of them had the clothes torn from their backs.

Members of Company H went to Camp Hall, armed themselves with ball cartridges and started on the warpath in real earnest.

One aged man took refuge in the Hotel Townsend.  He escaped by a rear door just as the soldiers with a battering ram were proceeding to carry out a threat to beat down the doors and lynch him.

A detail of the troops who had remained quiet was sent out to arrest the riotous guardsmen.  A clash ensued, in which a number were slightly injured.

It was not until the Governor had sent a detail of 50 men on the trail of the colored man who had started the trouble that the men were appeased.

Now, in this case, the term “race riot” may well have been somewhat correctly used.  And interestingly, the article did not do what many white-run newspapers did when discussing so-called race riots of that time period — show the “rioting” to be solely black on white.  This article described some horrific situations.  And I am guessing the Delaware beaches, like the Maryland beaches, had segregated “excursion” days when African Americans could use the beaches, when throughout most of the summer seasons they were restricted from using them.  I would love to see more local accounts of this.  And oral history accounts from descendants would be interesting.

–Linda Duyer

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