The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding--something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee--the cry is always the same:  "We want to be free."

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” April 3, 1968



National Guard in Wilmington after riots_April 1968


2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the civil disturbances that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While demonstrations occurred in major cities across the country, Wilmington suffered through the longest occupation by the National Guard. Wilmington’s West Central City and Eastside neighborhoods were patrolled for nine months, from April to December. The military occupation exacerbated existing divisions of race and class, and the tensions of that time reverberate down to the present day.

The Delaware Historical Society and Mitchell Center for African American Heritage is proudly a part of the community-wide reflection, Wilmington 1968. This local series includes projects, exhibitions, and programs that remember the occupation and uprising in Wilmington and respond to critical issues facing the community today.

To learn more about Wilmington 1968, visit


Community partners participating in this collaborative project speak about what the opportunity to interpret and reflect on this history and engage Wilmingtonians around social justice issues and the arts means for the city’s future.

1968 A world growing smaller, more connected by television and satellite communications, and more globally aware.  Different nations in search of freedom from colonial powers were increasingly influenced by what was going on in the U.S., especially by the Civil Rights Movement, and in turn, the U.S. was influenced by what we saw going on in the world.

Young people, many of them college students, questioned authority, whether that authority took the form of university administrators, local police, or the federal government. The Civil Rights Movement provided a model of activism for student protesters to follow, and many of the veterans of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) returned to their campuses inspired to speak out against the Vietnam War and for women’s rights.

National Guard in front of Tower Hat Shops_Wilmington 1968

The civil disorder and unrest following King’s assassination in April was the expression of sadness of a people turned to anger, anger turned in on itself, and also turned out onto the streets, sparking fear in those who did not understand its deep-seated sources.  
In Washington D.C., in Boston, in Los Angeles, in Chicago, in other cities across the country, black people expressed frustration with what they saw as a lack of change in American society, and in Wilmington, young people did the same.

This moment also sparked a renewed desire to work for change, a new generation of community activists who found direction in serving others and challenging the status quo. Rising youth movements implicitly understood the impact of media coverage to illustrate the conflict with police and underscore their higher moral position as non-violent protesters.

Even as civil rights movement activists questioned the utility of the nonviolence philosophy, and began to disavow the accepted strategy, the ever-present tension created by the possibility of violence erupting on one or all sides was part of what made ongoing protests so powerful and compelling. A scholar and activist of the times, Julius Lester observed, “Thus, Black Power was merely the next step in a logical progression…It was new in the context of ‘the movement’ of the 1960's. It was not new in the context of the lives of black people.”

Rising body counts in Vietnam and increasing numbers of young men being drafted were draining the country’s resources away from LBJ’s Great Society, and the young people who protested in Wilmington were as aware of this fact as anyone else.  As working class people who bore the burden of these shifts away from creating opportunities for jobs and education in their communities, they took matters into their own hands.
In Europe, the end of WWII and the Liberation was viewed as a missed opportunity to create a more open, less hierarchal society; similarly, returning black WWII veterans were inspired to end racial segregation in American society, and their children channeled that energy into the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. 1968 was a defining moment, nationally and internationally.

National Guard in Wilmington_with firemen_1968   National Guard in Wilmington_with firemen_1968

2018As we reflect on this history, 50 years later, in Wilmington, we look at our society, and see men, women and children, still suffering, still struggling, still confronted with racism and discrimination and injustice and deprivation. We ask ourselves, how can this be?  We ask ourselves, what can we do about this?  How can we end poverty and gun violence?  What can we do about homelessness in our society?  How do we truly create a just society and a fair economy? How can we provide real, effective, and meaningful education for those who need it most?

The children of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements have children and grandchildren of their own, as do the college students who led protests against Vietnam on their campuses and in the streets.  What future will those grandchildren make for themselves?


PREVIOUS PROGRAMMING (for reference only)

For Freedoms Town Hall: Restorative Schools Issue Campaign
Thursday, September 20, 2018
Doors open at 5:30 p.m.  | Town Hall starts at 6:00 p.m.
Kingswood Community Center
2300 Bowers Street | Wilmington, DE 19802

In partnership with Network Delaware, the Delaware Art Museum will present a Town Hall discussion on the Restorative Schools Issue Campaign moderated by exhibiting artist and For Freedoms co-founder, Hank Willis Thomas. A panel of community residents, organizers, practitioners, and scholars focused on civil rights, racial and social justice, law, and youth advocacy will engender a rich dialogue with community members. Free.


New Directions talk and book signing with Dr. Robyn C. Spencer
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
6:00 p.m.
FREE - reservations requested
Delaware Historical Society Mitchell Center for African American Heritage

Dr. Robyn C. Spencer, Associate Professor, Department of History at Lehman College, City University of New York, will speak on her book, The Revolution Has Come:  Black Power, Gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland (Duke University Press, 2016). Co-sponsored by the Delaware Humanities Forum.


A Dream Deferred: Documentary Screening and Panel Discussion
Thursday, June 7, 2018
6:00 p.m.
FREE - reservations requested
Delaware Historical Society Mitchell Center for African American Heritage

Join the Delaware Historical Society, Delaware Humanities, and the Delaware Art Museum for a screening of the documentary A Dream Deferred: Remembering the 1968 Occupation of the National Guard in Wilmington.  Following the documentary, a discussion will be held with a panel of individuals who experienced the civil unrest.  Their conversation will bring the events of 1968 into the present as we discuss the current state of race relations in Wilmington and in the United States.

The panel will be moderated by Simone Austin, the Delaware Art Museum’s 2017 Alfred Appel Jr. Curatorial Fellow and M.A. History Graduate Student at the University of Delaware.

Reportage and Documentary Drawing
Saturday, June 23
11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Delaware Art Museum

This workshop explores drawing on location, infusing the subject with both fact and feeling. Students will learn how to identify stories to document focusing on time, emotions, and passion. As visual journalists, students will be sketching with a loose and bold style. (All levels) Travel between the Museum and sketching locations will be required. Instructor: Luis E. Aparicio. $110 Members, $130 Non-members.


Wilmington Write-in
Saturday, June 23
2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Select readings and pop-up appearances in Rodney Square

Much like sit-ins, where people band together to make the case for change, the Wilmington Write-in aims to spark conversation and community through public storytelling. Held at the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, the Write-in will involve participants responding and reacting to the events of 1968 and their relevance today. Select readings and pop-up appearances.

Mobile Documentary and Street Photography Workshop
Sunday, June 24
2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Delaware Art Museum

Learn to harness the photographic capabilities of a mobile phone during this tutorial and photo walk. Students will stroll the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival taking pictures and learning on the go. Instructor: David Norbut. $50 Members, $60 Non-Members.

Documentary Screening: I Am MLK Jr.
Saturday, June 30
3:00 p.m.
Brandywine Town Center 16 | 3300 Brandywine Parkway, Wilmington, DE

Sponsored by the Mitchell Center for African American Heritage
I Am MLK Jr. celebrates the life and explores the character of American icon, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Following his journey across the mountaintops and valleys while capturing the Civil Rights Movement at large, the film provides intimate, first hand insights on Dr. King, exploring moments of personal challenge and elation, his legacy and an ongoing movement that is as important today as when Dr. King first shone a light on the plight of his fellow African Americans.


Wilmington 1968 Exhibitions Preview
Friday, July 13
6:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Delaware Art Museum 

Members and their guests are invited to preview the trio of exhibitions focusing on the Civil Rights Movement. Live music and refreshments provided. RSVP by July 6 at or 302.351.8506. Members and their guests only. Free for Members, $20 each for guests of Members.


Community Forums
Thursdays, July 26, August 2, and August 23
6:00 p.m.

This summer, community organizations will activate the galleries and visitors with a series of public forums focused on racial and social justice, civil rights, and education. Free.


Wilmington 1968: Commissioned Performances
Jaamil Kosoko, Thursday, August 9 - 6:00 p.m.

TAHIRA and Jea Street, Sunday, August 19 - 1:00 p.m.
Ashley Davis and Terrance Vann, Sunday, September 16 - 1:00 p.m.

Throughout the series of summer exhibition focused on the Civil Rights Movement, three original performances by local and regional performing artists will respond to the disturbances and subsequent occupation in Wilmington. These interdisciplinary performances and unique collaborations will combine music, visual arts, dance, and storytelling to interpret, give context, and call us to action around the events that shaped our nation and city.

Two performances pair artists working in different disciplines. Collaborations include musician Jea Street with storyteller TAHIRA, and dancer Ashley Davis with visual artist Terrance Vann. A third performance will include a two-week residency with performing artist Jaamil Kosoko. Free.


Beyond I have a Dream
Thursday, August 16
6:00 - 7:00 p.m.
Presented by YWCA Delaware

We know “I have a dream,” but how well do we really know Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s story? As we mark the 50th anniversary of his assassination, learn more about his political views, organizing, and collaboration with other activists in this public program. Free.

Delaware History Museum   |  Mitchell Center for African American Heritage   |   Old Town Hall   |   Research Library   |   Willingtown Square    |   Read House & Gardens  

(302) 655-7161
505 N. Market Street, Wilmington, DE 19801
copyright 2019

The Delaware Historical Society is the statewide, non-profit organization that explores, preserves, shares, and promotes Delaware history, heritage, and culture to strengthen our community.