In the Fall of 1984 my dad and uncle dropped me off on the campus of Delaware State (In those days the school had not reached University acclaim and was known as DSC) with a partial music scholarship in hand where I would pursue a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism. I became well vested in the social, political, and demographic climate of this seemingly one horse town. As an ambitious 18-year-old college kid during those days I probably was completely immune to the heart of most disparities pertaining to race relations in a small city that had nothing but solace to offer a rambunctious city kid who hailed just a stone’s throw away from the volatile and mean streets of East Baltimore. My best recollection of Dover frames memories of a slow town sternly oppose to change of any kind toward their complacent culture, but I also recall a class structure that cast people of color in a lower realm of the city’s power and social status. In short, Dover was like most American towns during that era. However, I never experienced outright racism during the five years I lived there. That’s why the recent reports of modern-day lynchings that have allegedly occurred in Dover this year stirs a deeply rooted concern for how the culture of Dover has transcended over the years. Upon my arrival to Dover I brought insight from stories my parents had shared with me about small rural towns. Mom and Dad were both raised in families with strong roots in the deep south of this country. In fact they were also teens during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and their war stories about lynchings and the killings of blacks were all to familiar. I honestly believe that my parents would have never allowed me to attend Del State if they had any doubt that I could be in harm’s way while attending college in the corn fields of Delaware. Now a generation later with many of my college day peers with kids attending school in Delaware, we must have this discussion regarding race relationships, and the existence of a potential threat of violence at the hands of racist lurking in the shadows while seeking their demise. The following story was not widely broadcast in local media and according to witnesses, the Dover Police Department, City Council, and the Delaware Attorney General’s office have not only failed but refuse to launch an investigation related to these cases of alleged lynchings solely on the premise that both cases were found to be unsubstantiated by Dover Police. My personal investigation into this story has rendered some alarming facts, and I now probe a harsh reality, and ponder whether black kids are safe while attending school in Dover.
It’s common knowledge to most that are astute regarding American History that lynchings were simply the way racist whites conducted business during the period of slavery in this country, and post Emancipation Proclamation periods. A man of color could be lynched solely on mere allegation that a negro had gotten beside themselves toward any white person. The stories of Emmit Till, the Scottsboro Boys, and others are good reads for those who are not knowledgeable of crimes that were carried out by mobs of white people who took to the streets and hanged a black man or woman, and resulting in no form of justice from the criminal justice system in many of these towns. The practice of hanging black people was so widespread that it was a celebration of sorts, with whites traveling for miles to take part in the killing of a “nigger”. Those of us among the African-American Community who have been educated on these atrocities refer to a black person swinging from a tree in the American South as “strange fruit”. In the spring of 2010 a young Wesley College student name Charles Conley was found dead hanging from a tree near Dover’s Silver Lake Park. The youth had his own belt tied around his neck as he dangled from a tree. Dover Police concluded that Conley had in fact committed suicide despite outcries from most who knew him, while arguing that Charles Conley was a well spirited young man with a bright future and no apparent reason to want to kill himself. The Conley death though strange, sudden, and without clarity was accepted as a suicide. His mother has always held that her son’s death was suspicious. On May 12, 2012 a black man name Johnny Clark was also found hanging from a tree, with his own belt wrapped around his neck, but this time the hanging was actually located inside Dover’s Silver Lake Park. Dover Police also ruled Clark’s death a suicide hanging as well. Clark’s death like the Conley youth sparked concerned that something suspicious may possibly be going on as chatter about two black men hanging themselves in Dover began to gain momentum within the community. Moreover, on September 21, 2012 a man named Henry J. Fordham actually escaped an attempted lynching. Fordham claims he was abducted by two white males at gunpoint and taken to Dover’s Silver Lake where the men initially tried to drown him. Fordham fought back. He was struck by several objects, stabbed several times, and one of the men took his belt off of him and tried to strangle him. Fordham also said he heard one of the men say “let’s hang this nigger”. Realizing his life was on the line, yelling out for help the entire time, Fordham fought back feverishly, and was able to escape from the men. He ran across the park with the men in pursuit driving their pickup truck and dove into the yard of home adjacent to the park. Fordham said the men then took off and left the scene. Fordham in obvious distress was encountered by one of the home owners of that property who called 911. Dover Police arrived and interviewed Fordham. Although he was bleeding profusely from the attack by two men, Dover P.D. didn’t believe his story. Fordham says that they thought his account of almost having been lynched was a joke, and laughed at him. Fordham said Dover P.D. refused to take an official police report regarding the matter. When he didn’t receive any assistance from local police, Fordham went to the state of Delaware’s Attorney General office, and was denied any assistance from that state agency as well. Fordham’s story along with Johnny Clark’s hanging has raised concern within the Dover black community. An organization entitled War ON the Horizon (WOH) has since taken up the cause of these alleged lynchings in Dover. WOH has beat the streets capturing live video from people within the community to get the facts regarding what happened. educators and political Activist within the Dover community have also come forward requesting that an official investigation be conducted into the alleged lynchings. In a sidebar to this story, racist leaflets were found scatterde around downtown Dover with the depiction of a black man hanging from a tree next to a swastika stating, “cleaning up the streets one nigger at a time”. Some of the leaflets made it onto the campus of Delaware State University and alarmed many blacks within the student body. Dr. Jahi Issa, Phd a member of the DSU faculty in the History Department had actually caught wind of the leaflets in early February of 2012. Dr. Issa did extensive American History research on the south. Issa was also known for his lectures on lynchings during class instructions. When the racist literature spread among the DSU students Issa led a student demonstration on campus, and was subsequently arrested for assault. The alleged assault was captured on student’s cellphones and drastically contradicts what DSU’s Security Chief alleges occurred. Chief Downs testified that he identified himself, touched Dr. Issa’s shoulder in a ‘calming fashion’ and that Dr. Issa said “fuck you” and hit him in the chest with a forearm blow. The below video clearly demonstrates that Downs’ account is nothing more than complete fabrication:
Dr. Issa was later fired from Delaware State University and his case has drawn even more interest in this story. Political Activist Doug Beatty (a white man) was questioned by participants of a forum which highlighted candidates running for a local political office. Beatty was unaware of the alleged lynchings the night of the forum, but has since taken a proactive stance towards getting to the facts regarding what happened in both of the alleged lynching cases. In late October Beatty was among a Small group that asks Dover City Council to conduct investigation into alleged lynchings. When the group present the Council with their concerns, Dover’s police chief refuted the allegations calling them “unsubstantiated”, but “unfortunate”. The chief went on to cite inconsistencies in the alleged attempted lynching account by Henry Fordham. According to Dover P.D. Fordham changed his story on several occasions and said that the home owners whose yard Fordham had fled to described him as acting irrational on the morning that police interviewed him after his alleged attack. Beatty decided to join the efforts of WOH and began to beat the streets as well, and tracked down what appears to be the only people who could corroborate Fordham’s story of being attacked. Beatty tracked down Mr. & Mrs. Ford (whose full names I will not give for obvious reasons) both refute the official claim that a resident reported “a man acting irrational” in their yard. According to Mr. Ford and the resident, sounds of an altercation, yelling and screaming awoke them and prompted them to turn on a floodlight. Both parties agree that Mr. Fordham fell to the ground yelling for help, and was not at all irrational considering his injuries. Mr. Beatty also uncovered other very disturbing facts related to this case. Apparently, the men who attempted to lynch Henry Fordham are known, and have admitted to killing Johnny Clark. Additionally, both Fordham and Clark had a history with Dover P.D. from prior encounters. You can read Doug Beatty’s complete objective and thorough investigation into these alleged lynchings on Blogspot.com: “Delaware’s Strange Fruit”. I’ll have more on this developing story.
To Be Continued —
The People’s Champion
I’m David Adams