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State takes down whipping post in Georgetown and archives it

The whipping post was used at the Sussex Correctional Institution south of Georgetown and installed for display in 1993.

In response to calls from the community and in recognition of the violence and racial discrimination that its display signified, a whipping post was removed Wednesday from downtown Georgetown.

The post will be “preserved in the state’s collections, so that future generations may view it and attempt to understand the full context of its historical significance,” said Tim Slavin, director of the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs. It’s headed for a division storage facility that, among other historical artifacts, includes a whipping post that once stood near The Green in Dover.

Workers arrived at the grounds of the Old Sussex County Courthouse around 9:30 a.m.

The whipping post is the only item in the division collections targeted to go from display to storage, a spokesman said. The division intends to work with historians, educators and leaders of Delaware’s African American community to explore interpreting it in a museum display.

Slavin said the current “cold, deadpan display … does not adequately account for the traumatic legacy it represents.”

“I think it was the right thing to do,” Gov. John Carney said in his Tuesday press conference. He pointed out that not only did officials whip people then in our past, but slaves were whipped on farms and plantations that were outside the law.

“I think for Delawareans of African descent, descendants of slaves, it’s a terrible reminder of that history,” Carney said. “So I think it’s appropriate to put it in a museum or a place out of the public square.”

The state move follows widespread protests after George Floyd, a black man, died after a policeman cut off his airflow by kneeling on his neck. Those protests morphed from outrage from police brutality to include issues of systemic racism throughout American society, including statues and public displays.

Delaware last used the whipping post in 1952, and in 1972 it was the last state to abolish its use. The whipping post and the pillory were disproportionately used on persons of color, according to the state.

Whipping posts were once painted red, hence the nickname “Red Hannah,” Delaware book collector John Reid wrote on his blog. 

“Such relics of the past should be placed in museums to be preserved and protected for those who want to remember the cruel, inhuman, barbarous acts perpetrated on our citizens,” Reba Hollingsworth, vice-chair of the Delaware Heritage Commission, said in a statement when it was removed.

Hollingsworth –-  a lifelong Delaware educator, historian and civil rights advocate -– witnessed a whipping in Dover in the late 1930s.

“I still remember the eerie silence that was pierced by the lashes of the whip,” she said. “I don’t remember how many lashes the man received that day, but the incident is a vivid memory every time I pass the jail on New Street, even though Red Hannah has been removed. When I drive around the Circle in Georgetown, my childhood emotions fill my heart.”

The whipping post was used at the Sussex Correctional Institution south of Georgetown and installed for display in 1993 at the state-owned Old Sussex County Courthouse.

“Since 1656, when the first recorded public whipping was staged [in Delaware] under Dutch Colonial rule, only the number of lashes and the variety of crimes for which they can be imposed have changed,” The New York Times wrote in 1969. “There are now 24 flogging offenses including grand larceny, wife beating, horse stealing and burning a courthouse. The maximum number of lashes is 60.”

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