On Saturday, May 16, 2015, at their annual Freedom Banquet, the Milford-Slaughter Neck NAACP honored several area residents for their contribution to the community. Douglas Gibson, a former Milford City councilman and educator, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition, the group honored the Milford Seven, the first African-American’s to graduate Milford Senior High School during the Brown vs. Education era.
Mr. Gibson was born and raised in southern Maryland, in the Easton and Oxford area. He graduated from Delaware State University and the University of Hawaii. Mr. Gibson served in the United States Navy before settling in Milford, marrying and raising two children.
“I used to come to ball games at Del State,” Mr. Gibson said. “All these pretty girls kept smiling at me and I wanted to know what they were smiling at. I ended up marrying one of those pretty girls and settled in Milford.” Mr. Gibson taught Industrial Arts in Milford for 16 years, beginning his teaching career there in 1954. He then taught architecture at Delaware Technical and Community College for 21 years, a job he said he loved.
Mr. Gibson has received numerous awards for his duck carvings and was named the 2000 Artist of the Year by the Delaware Chapter of Ducks Unlimited for his contributions to wildlife conservation. Now 92 years old, Mr. Gibson still spends each day in his workshop hand carving the life-like decoys that have made him well known in the art world. He still teaches workshops in his shop, saying that teaching has never left his blood. He says that receiving the NAACP award was something he never expected.
“When you do things voluntarily, you don’t expect awards,” Mr. Gibson said. “I do thing that better people’s lives and improve the community. I don’t do it for the praise and am blessed that I am able to do so.”
In addition to Mr. Gibson, the Milford Seven will also be recognized at the banquet. In 1962, seven ninth graders who had graduated from Benjamin Banneker Elementary School who wanted to further their education enrolled in Milford High School. At that time, black students had only two options for advanced education. They were required to attend either William Henry Comprehensive High School in Dover or William C. Jason Comprehensive High School in Georgetown.
“In September 1962, six brave individuals chose to integrate Milford High School,” Charles Hammond, one of the first seven black students to integrate Milford High School, said. “George Davis had already graduated from Benjamin Banneker in 1961 and was attending William Henry Comprehensive School at the time. He later transferred to Milford in 1962, joining the other six of us.” The other five students in addition to Mr. Baker, who has since passed away, and Mr. Hammond were Oveta Whaley, Timothy Duker, Josephus Clark, Gregory Showell and John Whalen.
Unlike the Milford Eleven who attempted to integrate Milford High School prior to the days of Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Hammond said that the Milford Seven only met minimal adversity when they began attending school.
“The adversity was not enough to deter us from our educational aspirations,” Mr. Hammond said. “The level of acceptance flourished when the male students began to play a significant role in the school’s athletic programs. In fact, Milford became the talk of the town with the talent of it’s African-American athletes.” Mr. Davis became the first black selected from Milford High School to play in the Blue-Gold Football Classic at the University of Delaware. Mr. Duker integrated the baseball team while Mr. Clark was the substitute quarterback. Mr. Hammond, Mr. Whalen and Mr. Showell, along with Mr. Clark, were members of the school’s first championship mile relay team. Mr. Hammond was also the first black band member, playing drums.
The seven students graduated from Milford High School in 1965 and all went on to professional careers as teachers, military officers, clergymen and nurses. Ms. Whaley was the first black student to graduate from the Milford School of Nursing. Mr. Showell, Mr. Duker, Mr. Clark and Mr. Hammond also became members of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
“We have always been proud that we were able to fulfill a journey that eleven other African American students were unable to do,” Mr. Hammond said.
Additional honorees recognized at this event included Jerome Harris Jr., St. Paul UM Church; Fran Shell Best, Bethel AME Church; Milford, Rev. Winton Hill III, Presiding Elder of the Dover District of the Delaware Conference of the First Episcopal District of the AME Church; Pastor Malissa Dukes, Overseer Kingdom Worship Ministries in Lincoln, DE; and unsung hero Gary Curry.