“Liberty and Justice for ALL!!!” declares the hot-pink sign created by Gail Reid for last year’s removal of the whipping post at the Old Sussex Court House, which was recently acquired by the HCA’s Collections program. Take in this story about Gail’s protest poster as told by Curator of Collections Elizabeth Coulter and Ms. Reid herself.
Maddie Messer: Hello and welcome back to the Saving Delaware History podcast. I'm your host Madeline Messer, and today we're joined by Elizabeth Coulter, the Curator of Collections with the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, and recent Collections donor and Delawarean Gail. Welcome to the podcast Elizabeth and Gail.
Elizabeth Coulter: Thanks for having us.
Gail Reid: Thank you. Thank you.
M: Today we'll be specially highlighting a recent acquisition for the Historic Collection of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, an object that is particularly meaningful to the year 2020. The object is a hot pink poster board mounted on a cardboard sign inscribed “Liberty and Justice for ALL!!!” in bold, black lettering. You can go to the Collections Instagram page @delawarehistory to see an image of the sign. Gail created the sign for a whipping post removal on the grounds of the Old Sussex County Courthouse in Georgetown, DE, that took place on July 1st, 2020. On the podcast today, we’ll talk more about that day in detail and we'll speak with Gail herself to learn more about her and the meaning behind this object that was recently donated.
Elizabeth, why did you want to talk about this topic today?
E: This object, though it came out of a special event and a special day, speaks to things that we've been experiencing as a nation over a long period of time, but especially in 2020. And now it's around a year ago that, on May 25th, 2020, George Floyd, who was a truck driver, a bouncer, hip hop artist, and a religious mentor living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, died at the hands of a police officer in uniform during the arrest. And the response to that, the response exhibited by people across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death was unprecedented. So as we collectively mourn George Floyd’s death, we too mourn the lives of many that have been lost to senseless and excessive acts of violence.
Beyond that, so many of us have spoken out against and have acted to reform the systems that allow racism towards people of color in the United States. The impact of the Black Lives Matter movement has been felt everywhere and manifested in different ways. And we've seen that a lot throughout Delaware. And for the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, where preserving, understanding, interpreting, and sharing the history of the culture of Delaware is at the core of our mission, it was really crucial for us to think about this moment and think critically about it, and the work that we had been doing, and the work that we needed to be doing.
M: Why do you think that is and what were some of the ways you saw the change in the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs?
E: I think that many of us fall into a pattern of “It will change eventually.” And maybe that's in part because there's always an overwhelming amount of work to be done. I've also seen that with real change, there's always some sort of pushback, because it's different from the way it was and that really makes it challenging to move forward.
However, the deeply established inequities and injustices that have been exposed, and the hurt, and the heightened emotions that many of us feel have ignited this urgency for faster change. And at the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, the Division has really made it a priority to integrate change into the daily practice and I've been doing that in my role as curator, especially [in] the approach to new Collections acquisitions. The curatorial team together has recognized the need to support and elevate relevant, inclusive history through objects and we've been working really hard to prioritize and implement a focused Collections Development Plan to achieve that.
All that being said, I'm still relatively new to this position. I officially started July 7th, but my unofficial first day was July 1st, and as you mentioned earlier, [on] July 1st the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs staff members and contractors removed awhipping posts that had been displayed on the grounds of the Old Sussex County Courthouse in Georgetown, Delaware. This whipping post was originally located on the grounds of the Sussex Correctional Institution south of Georgetown. The facility was developed in 1931, but the exact date of when the post was installed is unknown. Then later in 1992, the ward donated the post to the Division. It was at that point installed for public display at the state-owned Old Sussex County Courthouse in 1993.
So the decision to remove the whipping posts in 2020 was made in response to calls from the community and in recognition of the violence and the racial discrimination that its display signified to so many Delawareans. And that day was a major moment: It was there that I met Gail. She had created the sign that really caught the attention of the staff especially, and everyone attending the event that day. And so that's in part why we're meeting today to talk about it.
M: So I'd love to hear a bit more about your experience with the sign and the whipping post removal. But I'd also like to hear a little bit more about you, Gail, yourself. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
G: Yes, well, thanks for having me. First of all, I'm really excited to be here and join you this morning.
A little bit about myself: I am a mother of three beautiful Black sons; I am a wife; I am a grandmother; I am a college graduate with a Master's degree. In 2019, my son Kevin and I opened our first nonprofit called Aliyah’s Cupboard and we bless children and families who are dealing with some serious medical issues through donations. We support the family in their crisis. We are currently working with Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, I guess it’s called TidalHealth, in Seaford Delaware and we provide them with personal travel size items to kind of get them through their crisis as they're dealing with their child. I've recently joined the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce.
And I'm a child of God. I mean, that is the most important thing to me: That I will be able to stand as a witness to those who know the Lord and for those who don't.
M: And how did you hear about the whipping post removal and why did you attend that day?
G: Well, I think I first read about it in some local newspapers, that there was actually a petition that was being circulated, through the local NAACP and some other community activists, to garner enough signatures actually to have the whipping post removed. And I then started, at that point, to begin to follow that movement, because like Elizabeth alluded to, there was a lot going on in our country and there were some things that were starting to happen locally that really caught my attention.
I participated in a couple of protests, one that took place in Rehoboth Beach, right on Route One. That is actually the first, will be the first time that you would see the sign. That's a sign that I held up for the George Floyd protests, and not just for him but for all the other African Americans who had died. And I actually took that poster and, just me, just kind of walked [up] into the town of Millsboro and stood right at the sign as you enter Millsboro and held my sign up in support of the social injustice that was happening around the country. I felt that it was important that every corner of the nation, every small town was represented and spreading the message. And I stood there for three hours just holding, just me and my pink sign, you know, in town, so it really did impact a lot of people, even as they were passing through the town. And
I thought, you know, that slogan, “Liberty and Justice for ALL!!!,” really speaks volumes.
M: What was that day like for you?
G: That day for me...when I went up to Georgetown to witness the removal of the weapon post, it
was an emotional day for me. I've actually worked in Georgetown for over 30 years and have gone around that circle many, many times and have seen that whipping posts there. But I guess, you know, you've become sort of desensitized to things. And it was almost like, you saw it, I see it, but I don't see it. And when they actually were there at the post, I just felt like a rush of emotions, because I was like, my goodness, all of my adult life I've seen this here, not realizing why it was there, even when it was put there. It kind of forced me to come face to face with myself. As far as you know, here is something that over the years, many people that have long before me have suffered, on that post, being whipped in public and we don't even know how many, we don't even know who. I thought this is the time now to support the community in looking into getting that post removed.
M: Why did you create this sign specifically?
G: Well, I wanted a sign that spoke to the heart of the situation that was happening across the nation. I wanted to create a sign that would speak to everyone across the board, whether you were young, whether you were old, whether you were Black, whether you're white, whether you were of a different nationality. We from grade school, kindergarten, learned the Pledge of Allegiance, we recited that every day of our school days, and even at social events. And this is a pledge, the Pledge of Allegiance, that's been recited in this country for over 400 years. And so when we recite the Pledge of Allegiance, we do so with our right hand over our heart and we're declaring that under God, there is Liberty and Justice for All. There's no mention of a specific race or ethnicity, and that we as people of the United States of America would not or should not be discriminated against. At the end of that Pledge of Allegiance, it specifically says that there should be Liberty and Justice for All. It did not say for all white people, it did not say for all Black people, it did not say for all Latinx: It said for All, and that means all of us collectively, no matter what race we are, no matter what our walk of life, whether we were rich, whether we are poor,that we all should be treated equally, and with justice. And that to me was like you know, this has been ingrained in us since our childhood days, what is it about this that we don't get as adults? I mean, you would think that with the repetition...can you imagine how many times in your lifetime you've actually recited the Pledge of Allegiance? So what is it about that that we can’t apply to our everyday life? And can you imagine what the world would be like if there were Liberty and Justice for All?
So yeah, the sign was created because I wanted those simple words to speak volumes to the person personally and how have you applied that in your life? How have you shown that to others?
E: You’re giving me chills, I’ve got goosebumps.
G: Yeah. And it also speaks to one of the greatest Commandments, that is found in the Book of Mark 12:30, which says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. And the second one is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And there are no Commandments that are greater than these. And so speaking with that, we should love one another, support one another, be there to help each other.
M: What made you donate your post to Historical and Cultural Affairs?
G: Well, when I was asked to do that, I was just kind of shocked. But I just thought this time would be appropriate, across the board, for everyone, because, you know, we always coming up just recited the Pledge of Allegiance and towards the end of that is that phrase Liberty and Justice for All. I just thought that it was appropriate for the time. I mean, with such a movement going on, to to have that, to donate it, I didn't even hesitate. Like, really? Like, yes, please take it.
M: What does it mean to you to see your sign in a museum collection?
G: Wow, I was honored, I was humbled, I was just blown away. I mean, here I am just a small gal from a small town in Millsboro, Delaware and being asked, if my poster could be a part of history...I was so honored. I was...I had so many emotions running through me that day. I mean, I laughed a little bit, I think I cried a little bit. I was excited, I started texting people, you know, just to say, hey, they're taking my sign as a part of the collection! And so, yeah, I was emotionally all over the place, but at the end of the day, I was just so honored that Elizabeth and others had asked that that sign would be a part of the collection. It means a lot. I was just thrilled to even be asked to place my sign in the museum.
I carried that sign with me during the protests for George Floyd and for all those who tragically had been killed across the country. And I'm hope[ful] with the social unrest that’s happening in the country, the removal of the whipping post, which was a reminder for many, many years of those who suffered at the hands of the authorities who whipped them.
So I wrote a quick note on the back and dedicated that sign to my granddaughter Aliyah. And I can't wait to see it there and be able to share the story now with my kids, my family, and say, “Hey, if you ever see this sign, you know, it's mine!” You know, it's a legacy, definitely. And I'm just so excited about it.
M: Well, I can't thank either of you enough for taking the time to speak with us today and making the space to have this discussion and bring to light some of this more recent history. Thank you both for being on the podcast.
G: Thank you.
E: Thank you for having us.