Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by Black/African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent Black/African Americans. Below you will find spotlights of just a few of the many notable Black/African American residents and organizations from Delaware County.
The Nile Swim Club, located in Yeadon, is known for being the first Black-owned swim club in the nation. When Black residents Zoe Mask, Carson Puriefoy and Elmer Stewart were denied membership at the whites-only Yeadon Swim Club, they decided to build their own club. After formalizing the corporation, the new club purchased a two-acre plot of ground on Union Avenue in the borough and hired a contractor for the construction of a swimming pool and clubhouse. The facility officially opened its doors for the 1959 season and offered $30 memberships per family. Over the years, celebrities like Harry Belafonte and Motown’s Supremes met with and supported the Club’s founders. Today, the swim club welcomes hundreds of members and hosts a variety of community programs, events and more.
Read more about the Nile Swim Club
Judge Robert A. Wright broke racial barriers by becoming the first African American Judge to serve Delaware County in 1970. Wright, a Chester native, opened a law office in Chester after graduating Temple Law School (1946-1950). He served six years as the first African American Assistant District attorney in Delaware County before his judge appointment in 1970. He was elected to his first 10-year term in 1971.
He retired in 1989 and was appointed to a senior status on the court until 2003 when he was named a court conciliator. During his tenure, he had the honor of swearing in his own son, Robert C. Wright, to the bench in 1992. They were the first father and son to serve together on the county Common Pleas Court.
Wright was a big booster of his alma mater, Chester High School, and for years cheered the school on at basketball games. He received the Donald J. Orlowsky Award from the Delaware County Bar Association and the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Award. He died in 2010 at the age of 90.
Dr. Haith is a renowned African American surgeon with Crozer-Chester Medical Center and the medical director of the nationally recognized Nathan Speare Regional Burn Treatment Center, located in Chester, PA.
Dr. Haith earned a BS in biology from Yale University and an MD from Harvard Medical School. He completed a surgical internship at Yale New Haven Hospital, and a surgical and chief residency at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Shortly after joining the Crozer Burn Center, he was awarded a Traveling Burn Fellowship by the American Burn Association. In 2023, was appointed academic chair of the Dept of Surgery at Drexel university college of Medicine. Dr. Haith has been a faculty member of the College of Medicine for more than 40 years and is currently a professor of surgery, as well as associate dean of external affairs.
He has served as president of the American Burn Association and as governor and committee chairman of the American College of Surgeons. Dr. Haith has been a member of the board of the Philadelphia Burn Foundation since 1998 and president and council member of the Philadelphia Academy of Surgery.
Dr. Haith has been active in clinical research involving burn patients and has been funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. He has published 60 journal articles and the definitive chapter, “Burns/Inhalation,” in The Trauma Manual 2nd Edition. He has also presented locally, nationally, and internationally on a range of topics related to the care of burn patients.
William, “Woody”, Elwood Rice was a distinguished Tuskegee Airman, serving as a member of the 332nd Fighter Group during WWII. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces.
William was born on December 4, 1923, in Media Pennsylvania. He was the eldest child of Phostell and Ethelene Wakefield Rice and a member of the 1943 graduating class of Nether Providence High School and the National Honor Society. To fulfill his dreams of learning to fly, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps during his senior year of high school. He completed basic training at Keesler Army Airbase in Mississippi and was sent to Tuskegee Institute for preflight training. In 1944 he received his wings.
In the European conflict, he flew heavy bomber escort missions deep into enemy territory. He piloted 34 combat missions in a P51 plane. William was discharged from the Army in 1946 with the rank of 1st Lieutenant and returned to Delaware County to work and raise a family. Once home, he worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and for the Boeing Company in their Helicopter Division. He retired from Boeing in 1993 after 41 years of service.
William appears in the book “The Black List” chronicling the struggles, triumphs, and joys of Black life in America by twenty-five prominent Americans of various professions disciplines, and backgrounds. He died on November 27, 2022.
Learn more about his military service
Green Lawn Cemetery was founded in 1907 to serve the African American community in Chester City and Delaware County. The cemetery houses at least 2,000 burials, including the graves of at least 250 veterans of the United States Armed Services who served from the Civil War through the 20th century. Green Lawn is a vital cultural and historical resource in the community where residents can connect and learn about African American history and life, and the important contributions African Americans made to the Chester area, Pennsylvania, and the nation. Due to segregation laws, money was never set aside for perpetual care of the cemetery. After it reached capacity, funding dried up and eventually, the cemetery was abandoned. There is an ongoing community effort to maintain the cemetery and to honor those buried there.
Find out more here
Other notable Delaware County natives include: Leroy Russell Burrell, a former track and field athlete who won gold in the 100m ahead of Carl Lewis at the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle; Ted Dean, running back for the Philadelphia Eagles; famed broadcast journalist, Bill Whitaker; Wanda Sykes, actress, comedian, and writer; Bayard Rustin, a civil rights activist and close advisor to Martin Luther King Jr.; and William Still, a free-born man, leader of the abolitionist movement, and father of the Underground Railroad.
The Delaware County Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Office and County partners will be hosting a celebration to honor the significant contributions of the Black community in Delaware County. This event will spotlight the achievements of local Black leaders and Delaware County team members, featuring their contributions to our community. The celebration is set to include an array of artwork and performances, embracing this year’s Black History Month theme—African Americans and the Arts. Join the online celebration on Friday, February 23, from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Students can contribute artwork to this event by emailing NeidlJ@co.delaware.pa.us for more information. Link to online event.
Free Blood Pressure Screenings
The Delaware County Health Department is partnering with Keystone First to hold free blood pressure screenings for Delaware County residents on February 26 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Yeadon Wellness Center, located at 125 Chester Ave., in Yeadon, PA. No appointments are necessary. Screenings will be conducted on a walk-in, first-come first serve basis.
Reading About Black History Figures
Delaware County Council has partnered with Delaware County Libraries to share some of their favorite books featuring historical figures and events in Black History. Throughout February, Delaware County Libraries will be featuring book recommendations from Delaware County Council members. Book recommendations will be shared here throughout the month on the Delaware County Libraries website.
Delaware County invites families and children from across the county to celebrate Black History Month in Rose Tree Park. The Department of Parks and Recreation and Delaware County Libraries are featuring a book celebrating Black History as part of its StoryWalk® experience. The year’s exhibit features Martin’s Big Word: The life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport. Located in the upper field behind the amphitheater stage at Rose Tree Park, StoryWalk® is a children’s book exhibit that is spread out page by page across 18 reading stations along an approximately .25 mile trail in Rose Tree Park, located at 1671 N. Providence Rd., in Media, PA. The exhibits are free and open during park hours.
Black History Program for Seniors
The Chester Senior Center, a Delaware County Offices of Services for the Aging’s (COSA) sponsored Senior Center, along with the Darlington Arts Center, is hosting a writing workshop and performance. Residents are invited to share their personal journeys in writing workshops and then in a dramatic storytelling performance. Residents are also invited to enjoy the performances and hear captivating stories of the lives of our community members. The workshops and performance will be held at the Chester Senior Center located at 721 Hayes St., in Chester, PA. Registration is required. Please register by February 8 by calling (610) 497-3550.
“Making a Homeplace: The Historically Black Neighborhood of Swarthmore”. The HBNS: Making a Homeplace inaugural podcast features three community curated episodes from various HBNS ethnographic research in 2010, 2020, 2022. Listen here.
Eta Sigma Gamma Black History Month Series: Health Symposium
2/18 Collingdale Black History Month Celebration
2/24 “We Are Black History” Celebration – First Baptist Church of Darby