Old photos headline Black History Month

February 4, 2013 2:31:39 PM PST
A Black History month photo exhibit in Delaware is providing a riveting look at the history of African Americans living in the U.S. Specifically, a look into neighborhood life on the East side of Wilmington.

"The east side was the upper-middle class of African-Americans."

The exhibit gives a sense of one looking at the past through someone else's memory. The black-and-white photos are on display in an exhibit by the Delaware Historical Society in honor of Black History month.

These former East Side residents also remember the annual quarterly celebrations on French Street, which were always the last Sunday in August.

The photos offer a rare glimpse of African-American life during the Great Depression.

"We had a community where people watched out for one another."

Last year, this collection was the highlight of Vice President Joe Biden's annual Black History Month reception, at his home in the nation's capital.

What's remarkable about these photos, is that the person who took them was a white teenager from Lombard Street in Wilmington. He had a simple camera and a limited understanding of photography. Henry Szymanski grew up just a few blocks from the East Side.

"He apparently gained his skills through The Boys Club, locally here," said Heather Isbell-Schumacher of the Delaware Historical Society. "You do get the idea that Henry had a good relationship with the African-American community. Yes he did."

"During the riots here in Wilmington in 1968, he was able to come into the community safely, at a time when I think many whites would not have been able to," said Dr. Constance Cooper, the chief curator of the Delaware Historical Society.

After Szymanski's death in 2001, his family donated his photos to the historical society. They will be shown all month here at the Louis Redding City County Building in Wilmington.

Did you recognize anyone in those photos? If so or if you want to see the pictures again, you can view them in our PhotoGallery, and you can contact the Delaware Historical Society.