Archive

Posts Tagged ‘legal history’

Local legal historic sites – Midtown Parking Center and Eagle Coffee Shoppe

February 8th, 2012 No comments
Midtown Parking Center

Midtown Parking Center

This ordinary mid-century parking garage once played an important part in the struggle to end segregation in Delaware. In 1958, William H. Burton, an African American and member of the Wilmington City Council, entered the Eagle Coffee Shoppe, a restaurant on the ground floor of the parking garage and was refused service. The restaurant, like most restaurants and theaters in Wilmington at that time would not serve African Americans.  The parking garage was built and maintained by the Wilmington Parking Authority, which had leased space to shops and a restaurant in order to defray the cost of the garage. Burton, represented by Louis L. Redding, filed suit in the Delaware Court of Chancery against the restaurant and Parking Authority. The case was eventually appealed to the United States Supreme Court which found in Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority 365 US 715 (1961) that because the restaurant was in a government owned building, refusing service to Burton on the basis of his race violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Eagle Restaurant menu

Eagle Restaurant menu from 1956. The restaurant moved to the Parking Authority garage in 1958.

In a 1998 interview, attorney Frank H. Hollis remembered how the case started. Seven African-American Chrysler workers had been arrested and charged with trespassing for trying to eat in the Eagle Coffee Shoppe. Hollis represented the seven. After conferring with Louis Redding and the NAACP, councilman Burton was asked to be a test case. When Burton was also denied service, Redding filed the suit against the Wilmington Parking Authority and the restaurant.

Burton’s attorney Louis L. Redding, was the first African American attorney in Delaware. He had a long legal career in Delaware and argued many important civil rights cases. Besides Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority he was also the attorney for the plaintiffs in Gebhart v. Belton which eventually was heard as part of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

The parking garage is now closed, though it still stands at the corner of 9th and Shipley. The Eagle Coffee Shoppe has been gone for many years and is currently the location of the Ninth Street Book Shop.

Sources:

Frank H. Hollis. My Memories of Law Practice in Wilmington, Delaware. Del. Law., SUMMER 1998, at 22

Carolyn D. Mack. The Other Side of Equity: The Court of Chancery and Civil Rights. 5 Del. Law. FALL 1986 at 20 (1986)

Harvey Bernard Rubenstein. Delaware Controversies That Have Shaped the Constitution. 6 Del. Law. 122 (1987-1988)

Robert E. Whiteside. Parking Facilities Developed in Merchant-City Programs. 13 Traffic Quarterly 294 (1959)

and thanks to Jack Buckley, Ninth Street Book Shop

Dickens’ 200th birthday

February 7th, 2012 No comments

It’s Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday! In celebration why not reread this post on Dickens, copyright and “A Christmas Carol” by Mary Jane Mallonee, retired Widener Law librarian and Dickens buff.

Local legal historic sites — grave of Richard Bassett

January 4th, 2012 No comments

Richard_bassettI’ve reached the end of my short series of local legal historic sites associated with Delaware’s signers of the Constitution. Previously we’ve covered Gunning Bedford Jr., Jacob Broom, George Read, and John Dickinson. Our final Delaware signer is Richard Bassett. One of the biggest difficulties in writing this profile is coming up with a physical historic site related to Bassett. Bassett was once one of the richest men in Delaware, owning estates in Maryland and Delaware and a house in Wilmington. None of these houses remain. The only remaining site is his burial place, in the Bayard-Bassett vault in the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery.

Richard Bassett was born in Bohemia Ferry in Cecil County Maryland. His parents ran the Bohemia Ferry Tavern. Bassett’s father left his family. Luckily for Bassett his mother was an heir to Bohemia Manor, a huge estate in Cecil County. Bassett was adopted by Peter Lawson, a lawyer, who was also an heir to Bohemia Manor, which Bassett eventually inherited. Lawson trained his adopted son as a lawyer. Bassett became a member of the Delaware Bar in 1770 and began his practice in Dover, Delaware.

During and after the Revolution, Bassett served at the Delaware State constitutional convention and was a member of the state Legislative Council and House of Assembly and the captain of a troop of cavalry. In 1787 he was chosen as a member of Delaware’s delegation to the Constitutional Convention. He never spoke at the convention but voted in favor of the new Constitution.

He was elected to the United States Senate in 1788 where he supported a strong judiciary. He was governor of Delaware in 1798, resigning in 1801 when he was named a judge of the Third Circuit by John Adams. He was one of the “midnight judges” whose position was eliminated in 1802 by the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801 by the new administration of Thomas Jefferson. Bassett published a pamphlet arguing against the elimination of the judges and in favor of judicial independence.

Besides his political and legal activities Bassett was also a strong supporter of the Methodist Church. He converted to Methodism in the 1780s and supported  Francis Asbury and other Methodist ministers. He invited Methodist preachers to Bohemia Manor and held camp meetings there. His religious scruples led him to oppose slavery, freeing his own slaves and trying to convince Delaware to abolish slavery.

Bassett was married twice. He had no sons, but one of his daughters, Ann, married James A. Bayard, who became a U.S. Senator for Delaware and founded a dynasty of Delaware Senators including Richard H. Bayard, James A. Bayard, Jr., Thomas F. Bayard, Sr. and Thomas F. Bayard, Jr. Bassett died in 1815 at Bohemia Manor.

Photo credit: Engraving, by Charles B. J. Fevret de Saint-Memin (1802). From Wikimedia

For more information on Richard Bassett  see:

Robert E. Pattison. “The Life and Character of Richard Bassett.” Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware (1900)

Gaspare J. Saladino. Bassett, Richard. American National Biography. Oxford University Press, 1999, v. 2