Remembering Littleton Mitchell

Delaware civil rights leader Littleton Mitchell died July 6 at the age of 90. The following article was published in the February 2009 issue of Delaware Today.




The Champion

Littleton Mitchell was a pioneer in the fight for equal treatment of all. Having seen a black man elected president, he has lived a dream. by Scott Pruden

  

It should come as no surprise that Delaware civil rights icon Littleton Mitchell is a fan of bullfighting.

The man who would later lead the state chapter of the NAACP for more than 30 years was a fifth grader in a segregated elementary school in Milford when he asked his teacher about an illustrated entry on matadors in the Encyclopedia Britannica. The teacher handed him the 1932 book “Death in the Afternoon,” in which Ernest Hemingway writes on the history and state of the sport at the time.

That moment more than any other informed the rest of his life, because just as the matador—a man armed with only a cape and sword—stands toe-to-toe with a beast intent on running him down, so Mitchell eventually faced down the brutal and humiliating injustices of institutionalized racism that threatened to trample the very promise of the United States.

The day he decided to fight, however, came later.

As a teenager, Mitchell and a friend went looking for jobs at a factory in Slaughter Neck. On an adjacent farm, Mitchell saw a black woman leaving what he thought was a chicken house, sweeping the dirt yard with a tree branch.

Against his friend’s advice, he asked the woman if she lived there. From her accent it was obvious she had come from the South. The woman told Mitchell that she was put there by the farm’s owner, who told her she’d have to “sleep there for a while.”

Mitchell, incensed, returned to his friend. “I said, ‘What if that was your mother? What if that was my mother? Man, I’d do something, but I don’t know what I can do.”

At the factory, he mentioned the farmer’s name to a worker, who immediately pointed him out.

“I went over and called him everything you could think of,” Mitchell says. “The men who were working there, they said, ‘You come on. You get yourself and you go home, because John Isaacs will have you.’ And I said, ‘I tell you one thing, Mr. Isaacs: I’m going to come back and get you. I don’t know how long it’s going to be, but I’m going to have your ass.’”

It was the beginning of a life confronting injustice where he saw it and doing what he could to fight it.

But the teenager who was so struck by the shabby treatment of Delaware’s migrant farm laborers hadn’t seen anything yet. He graduated from Howard High School in Wilmington and went on to what was then West Chester State Teachers College in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Two years into his studies, Mitchell enlisted with the U.S. Army to fight against the Axis powers in World War II. But as a young recruit in 1941, the Nazis and Imperial Japan would be the least of his problems. He was on his way to Alabama.

As longtime president of the state chapter of the NAACP, Mitchell traveled far and wide to fight racism and urge residents to get involved. Photograph courtesy of Delaware Public ArchivesMitchell’s experiences with racism until joining the Army were nothing compared to the discrimination he experienced while serving with the Tuskegee Airmen. While stationed in Alabama, he married his wife, Jane, who was fresh out of nursing school, witnessed the construction of the airfield and helped train the United States’ first squadrons of African-American combat pilots. But the mistreatment took its toll.

“That had an imprint on me. The most degrading situations I’ve ever been in were down in Alabama,” he says. “When I came home and told my mother and family, they didn’t believe me. My wife didn’t believe me.”

To prove what he said, he and Jane moved to Alabama, where she worked as a nurse at the Veterans Administration hospital, then at the Tuskegee Institute hospital.

At nearly every turn came another affront to his humanity. His uniform—the one he wore in service to the United States—made little difference.

Discharged in 1946, Mitchell made his way back to West Chester, where he completed his college education, after which he returned to Delaware to teach, eventually becoming the first black teacher of white children at Governor Bacon Health Center in Delaware City. But his commitment to fighting injustice hadn’t wavered in the interim, and the man who first joined the NAACP as a 13-year-old eventually came to lead the Delaware chapter.
 
Littleton Mitchell as a child. Photograph courtesy of Jeanne Nutter It was in this role that Mitchell found a way to right the injustices he had seen throughout his life. One of his first goals was to seek out the man who started it all.

“When we came back from down in the South, I told Jane, ‘I’m going to get with the NAACP in Wilmington,’ and my first thing that I wanted to do when I became president of the state branch was migrant labor. We’re going to look at migrant labor, and I want to find out about John Isaacs,” Mitchell recalls.

He discovered that Isaacs owned several farms in Delaware. He regularly used migrant laborers from Southern states to work his fields, and he forced them to live in squalid conditions. “We did a very good study on him and we got those places closed,” Mitchell says.

Such work continued throughout his tenure, whether it was mounting support to fight against the national Ku Klux Klan, holding a meeting in Dover or investigating segregation at hospitals in Lewes and Smyrna.

And now, having retired from his post at the NAACP in 1991, he has lived to see what he never thought was possible: an African-American president of the United States.

“I didn’t think this country had matured to the point where the majority of the people wouldn’t look at his complexion or his race,” he says. “I could not conceive of the people of this country coming out and voting for a very intelligent and very secure black man.”

But vote they did, and Barack Obama’s election to the highest office in the land is the direct result of the work Littleton Mitchell and so many others did during the hard days at the height of the civil rights movement, says Federal Judge Gregory Sleet, a close friend of Mitchell’s through his father, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Moneta Sleet Jr., who covered the civil rights movement for Ebony magazine.

Littleton Mitchel when he served with the Tuskegee Airmen. Photograph courtesy of Jeanne Nutter “I think there’s probably a direct link with Lit to my existence here on this court and even to my previous position as U.S. attorney,” Sleet says. “He was laying the groundwork, along with many others like him, people who were laboring in the trenches to build what we see today in grand relief in the person of President Barack Obama, which is something I didn’t think I’d live to see.”

John Watson, morning host on WILM-AM, also notes the link between Mitchell and Obama. “He was able to do what we hear about Barack Obama so much—bridging the gap between the two races,” Watson says. “When I first started hearing about Barack Obama, I said, ‘Well, he reminds me of Littleton Mitchell.’”

So Mitchell, the matador who dedicated himself to fighting the beast that is racism, has lowered his cape and sword against a weakened foe. Today, it’s less about fighting, more about speaking to young people about why he fought and about why the pockets of racism, the tiny incidents that deny a job or wound the soul, should be brought into the open.

“For young people to have the ability to reach out and touch him and speak with him and have him tell those stories, it gives them context,” Sleet says. “How much better is that than reading it in a textbook, if you can even find it in a textbook?”

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January 2018

January 2 – 27 Winter Group Show A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including oil paintings, pastels, ornamental boxes, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift...

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On Sundays, we brunch. Imagine your best ever brunch experience. Now add some local flair, an award-winning culinary team, and a modernly chic ambiance in a brand new gastropub. On Sundays from...

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The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from January 12-15 and 19-21. The show will feature highly-interactive exhibits...

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1101 Arch St
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Each month, adults and children can create art together and experiment with new materials, techniques, and themes in the Bank of America Education Wing Studios—no reservations required! This...

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Wilmington, DE  19806
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Join us for in-depth conversations in the galleries, led by University of Delaware graduate student Kristen Nassif. Image: Spring Rain, 1912. John Sloan (1871–1951). Oil on canvas, 20 1/4 × 26...

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Inspired by the Delaware Art Museum’s Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Collection of Pre-Raphaelite Art, collaborators Troy Richards and Knut Hybinette will develop a pop-up virtual reality (VR)...

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The first major retrospective exhibition of John Sloan’s work since 1988, An American Journey explores all facets of the artist’s long career: his work as an illustrator in Philadelphia, his...

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Wilmington, DE  19806
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Founded in 1971, the Harmony Weavers Guild is dedicated to the making of cloth—a process involving time-consuming techniques. Created by hand, the works of art highlight attention to design...

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January 2 – 27 Winter Group Show A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including oil paintings, pastels, ornamental boxes, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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Learn how insects help us tackle everyday problems: they inspire new technologies, help detectives solve mysteries, and play an important role in our food industry. Enjoy hands-on activities,...

Cost: $8 for adults, $6 for children between 4 and 14, and free for children under 4 a

Where:
Hagley Library and Soda House
298 Buck Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Agilent Technologies
Telephone: 302-658-2400
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Come join us in celebrating the mission work of the American Heart Association while raising funds to end cardiovascular disease. There will be a live and silent auction, served dinner with wine,...

Cost: $175.00

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
Justinson Street
Wilmington , DE
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Telephone: 302-286-5704
Contact Name: Denise Griffin
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Celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Museum in partnership with One Village Alliance and Raising Kings. Activities include gallery highlights, art making, mentorship...

Cost: Free; donations accepted

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The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from January 12-15 and 19-21. The show will feature highly-interactive exhibits...

Cost: 13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St
Philadelphia, PA  19107
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The Lighthouse Inc., Church will be holding a revival themed "Broken and Spilled Out Glory Encounter". The revival will start on Monday January 15, 2018 at 7 pm and will run through...

Cost: free

Where:
The Lighthouse Inc., Church
6 South Railroad Avenue
Wyoming, DE  19934
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Sponsor: The Lighthouse Inc., Church
Telephone: 302-697-1472
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January 2 – 27 Winter Group Show A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including oil paintings, pastels, ornamental boxes, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Come join us in celebrating the mission work of the American Heart Association while raising funds to end cardiovascular disease. There will be a live and silent auction, served dinner with wine,...

Cost: $175.00

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
Justinson Street
Wilmington , DE
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Telephone: 302-286-5704
Contact Name: Denise Griffin
Website »

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The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from January 12-15 and 19-21. The show will feature highly-interactive exhibits...

Cost: 13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St
Philadelphia, PA  19107
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The Lighthouse Inc., Church will be holding a revival themed "Broken and Spilled Out Glory Encounter". The revival will start on Monday January 15, 2018 at 7 pm and will run through...

Cost: free

Where:
The Lighthouse Inc., Church
6 South Railroad Avenue
Wyoming, DE  19934
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Sponsor: The Lighthouse Inc., Church
Telephone: 302-697-1472
Contact Name: Christopher Gore
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Do you want to learn how to make BEER soap? This is your chance! Join me for a fun and informative class @ Argilla Brewing Co. We will make soap from scratch, learn how to make a recipe, blend...

Cost: 45

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Argilla Brewing Co
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January 2 – 27 Winter Group Show A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including oil paintings, pastels, ornamental boxes, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Come join us in celebrating the mission work of the American Heart Association while raising funds to end cardiovascular disease. There will be a live and silent auction, served dinner with wine,...

Cost: $175.00

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
Justinson Street
Wilmington , DE
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Telephone: 302-286-5704
Contact Name: Denise Griffin
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FREE COMMUNITY EVENT: MID-WEEK WORD REFRESHER Come join us at the Mid-Week Word Refresher every Wednesday at Faith Victory Christian Center from 11:00am - 12:00pm. Refreshments will be...

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The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from January 12-15 and 19-21. The show will feature highly-interactive exhibits...

Cost: 13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St
Philadelphia, PA  19107
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Why not garden deliberately for the winter season? Bring together a succession of winter flowers for color and fragrance to create a dynamic scene against a backdrop of evergreens, colored stems,...

Cost: UDBG Friends: $95/series or $35/class; Nonmembers: $125/series or $45/class

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132 Townsend Hall on UD's South Campus
531 South College Avenue
Newark, DE  19716
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Clearing the mind and learning to think not thinking is Zen awareness. Taking the appropriate action in this moment is Zen. Once you know this in your body, walking, standing, sitting down,...

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Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark
420 Willa Road
Newark, DE  19711
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The Lighthouse Inc., Church will be holding a revival themed "Broken and Spilled Out Glory Encounter". The revival will start on Monday January 15, 2018 at 7 pm and will run through...

Cost: free

Where:
The Lighthouse Inc., Church
6 South Railroad Avenue
Wyoming, DE  19934
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Sponsor: The Lighthouse Inc., Church
Telephone: 302-697-1472
Contact Name: Christopher Gore
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The first major retrospective exhibition of John Sloan’s work since 1988, An American Journey explores all facets of the artist’s long career: his work as an illustrator in Philadelphia, his...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Show glides through life of professional figure skater Randy Gardner with help from Tai Babilonia and Dorothy Hamill. Wilmington, DE—“It ain’t no Ice Capades,” Randy...

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200 Water St.
Wilmington
, DE  19801
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Sponsor: Carolina Millard
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January 2 – 27 Winter Group Show A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including oil paintings, pastels, ornamental boxes, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Nanticoke Health Services, in conjunction with CHEER and Care DE and the Manor House, will hold a Parkinson’s education and support group on Thursday, January 18 from 9:30 am to 11:00 am at the...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Manor House
1001 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-629-6611 x3838
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Come join us in celebrating the mission work of the American Heart Association while raising funds to end cardiovascular disease. There will be a live and silent auction, served dinner with wine,...

Cost: $175.00

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
Justinson Street
Wilmington , DE
View map »


Telephone: 302-286-5704
Contact Name: Denise Griffin
Website »

More information

The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from January 12-15 and 19-21. The show will feature highly-interactive exhibits...

Cost: 13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St
Philadelphia, PA  19107
View map »

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Nanticoke Rehabilitation Services hosts lymphedema support groups on the third Thursday of each month from 1:30 pm to 3:00 pm at the Seaford Library and Cultural Center located at 600 N. Market...

Cost: FREE

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Seaford Library & Cultural Center
600 N. Market Street Extended
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Arts-n-Appetizers is hands on this month! UWC will be hosting a paint party Thursday, January 18th from 6-8PM. Tickets are $55 per person and include all painting materials and buffet dinner! This...

Cost: $55

Where:
University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Telephone: 302-658-5125

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Dara Orenstein, from George Washington University, will lead this seminar which is free and open to the public. The seminar is based on a paper that is circulated in advance. Those planning to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Hagley Library
298 Buck Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Hagley's Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society
Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Carol Lockman
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The Lighthouse Inc., Church will be holding a revival themed "Broken and Spilled Out Glory Encounter". The revival will start on Monday January 15, 2018 at 7 pm and will run through...

Cost: free

Where:
The Lighthouse Inc., Church
6 South Railroad Avenue
Wyoming, DE  19934
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Sponsor: The Lighthouse Inc., Church
Telephone: 302-697-1472
Contact Name: Christopher Gore
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Celebrate John Sloan with Mozart’s Divertimento in E-flat Major for String Trio (4th movement), selections from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (arranged by Heifitz), and Reynaldo Hahn’s Piano...

Cost: $30 for Members, $50 for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

The first major retrospective exhibition of John Sloan’s work since 1988, An American Journey explores all facets of the artist’s long career: his work as an illustrator in Philadelphia, his...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

Show glides through life of professional figure skater Randy Gardner with help from Tai Babilonia and Dorothy Hamill. Wilmington, DE—“It ain’t no Ice Capades,” Randy...

Where:
200 Water St.
Wilmington
, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Carolina Millard
Telephone: 302-594-1100, ext. 215

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 2 – 27 Winter Group Show A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including oil paintings, pastels, ornamental boxes, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

Come join us in celebrating the mission work of the American Heart Association while raising funds to end cardiovascular disease. There will be a live and silent auction, served dinner with wine,...

Cost: $175.00

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
Justinson Street
Wilmington , DE
View map »


Telephone: 302-286-5704
Contact Name: Denise Griffin
Website »

More information

The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from January 12-15 and 19-21. The show will feature highly-interactive exhibits...

Cost: 13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St
Philadelphia, PA  19107
View map »

More information

The Lighthouse Inc., Church will be holding a revival themed "Broken and Spilled Out Glory Encounter". The revival will start on Monday January 15, 2018 at 7 pm and will run through...

Cost: free

Where:
The Lighthouse Inc., Church
6 South Railroad Avenue
Wyoming, DE  19934
View map »


Sponsor: The Lighthouse Inc., Church
Telephone: 302-697-1472
Contact Name: Christopher Gore
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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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More information

The first major retrospective exhibition of John Sloan’s work since 1988, An American Journey explores all facets of the artist’s long career: his work as an illustrator in Philadelphia, his...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

Show glides through life of professional figure skater Randy Gardner with help from Tai Babilonia and Dorothy Hamill. Wilmington, DE—“It ain’t no Ice Capades,” Randy...

Where:
200 Water St.
Wilmington
, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Carolina Millard
Telephone: 302-594-1100, ext. 215

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 2 – 27 Winter Group Show A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including oil paintings, pastels, ornamental boxes, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Flakey, decadent, and oh so sweet-- What better way to celebrate National Pie Day than with a fresh baked pie from Linvilla Orchards. All pies will be $5 off the entire weekend. For over 40 years...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Linvilla Orchards
137 W Knowlton Rd
Media, PA  19063
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Come join us in celebrating the mission work of the American Heart Association while raising funds to end cardiovascular disease. There will be a live and silent auction, served dinner with wine,...

Cost: $175.00

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
Justinson Street
Wilmington , DE
View map »


Telephone: 302-286-5704
Contact Name: Denise Griffin
Website »

More information

Dover Aglow International will be meeting on Saturday January 20, 2018 starting at 11 a.m.    The meeting will be featuring Ed Thomas, Mid-Atlantic Aglow, Anti-Human Trafficking...

Cost: free

Where:
The Lighthouse Inc., Church
6 South Railroad Avenue
Wyoming, DE  19934
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Sponsor: The Lighthouse Inc., Church
Telephone: 302-593-8711
Contact Name: Barbara Allsopp

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The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from January 12-15 and 19-21. The show will feature highly-interactive exhibits...

Cost: 13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St
Philadelphia, PA  19107
View map »

More information

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:     December 19, 2018   FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT: Dave Ruffner Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave., Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095,...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Do you have a winning chili recipe? Secret family soup recipe? The best stew ever? Now's your chance to win some bragging rights!  Enter our CROCK OFF contest for a chance to win fantastic Salted...

Cost: $5.00

Where:
Salted Vines Vineyard & Winery
32512 Blackwater Rd
Frankford, DE  19945
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Sponsor: Salted Vines Vineyard & Winery
Telephone: 302-436-1500
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The Lighthouse Inc., Church will be holding a revival themed "Broken and Spilled Out Glory Encounter". The revival will start on Monday January 15, 2018 at 7 pm and will run through...

Cost: free

Where:
The Lighthouse Inc., Church
6 South Railroad Avenue
Wyoming, DE  19934
View map »


Sponsor: The Lighthouse Inc., Church
Telephone: 302-697-1472
Contact Name: Christopher Gore
Website »

More information

Show glides through life of professional figure skater Randy Gardner with help from Tai Babilonia and Dorothy Hamill. Wilmington, DE—“It ain’t no Ice Capades,” Randy...

Where:
200 Water St.
Wilmington
, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Carolina Millard
Telephone: 302-594-1100, ext. 215

More information

The first major retrospective exhibition of John Sloan’s work since 1988, An American Journey explores all facets of the artist’s long career: his work as an illustrator in Philadelphia, his...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

Show More...
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