Dover seeks to name New Street playground after Bishop Blackshear

The city of Dover is considering naming the New Street park after the late Bishop L.T. Blackshear at the request of Dover City Councilman Tim Slavin. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

DOVER — While the late Bishop L.T. Blackshear was most at home delivering the message of God from behind the pulpit, he also certainly did a lot of building — not only churches, but communities — during his days in Delaware.

Dover City Councilman Tim Slavin noted the impact that Bishop Blackshear left on the community and implored the city’s representatives to name a playground that sits off New Street in his honor. The issue was addressed at Tuesday night’s Council of the Whole Parks, Recreation and Community Enhancement Committee and its members voted to name the park in the bishop’s honor.

“When our good friend Councilman Wallace Dixon passed away, I had the honor of sitting with Bishop (Thomas L.) Holsey at his service,” said Mr. Slavin. “Bishop Holsey and I talked about the long tradition of Black churches in Dover and he cited the work of Bishop L.T. Blackshear in not only running a church but providing so much for the Black community in Dover.”

That was why Mr. Slavin turned to fellow Councilmen David Anderson and Roy Sudler Jr. to work on renaming the New Street playground after the bishop. The renaming of the park in honor of Bishop Blackshear still must pass a vote by the full city council before it becomes official.

“Obviously, many of the people who knew Bishop Blackshear were people that he ministered to,” Councilman Anderson said. “There are also people who like the fact that the park is being considered to be renamed in his honor due to his community involvement.

Bishop L.T. Blackshear

“It’s the community involvement that we don’t want to forget. He and the Rev. Dixon pioneered the summer lunch program for the children and they also opened the first community center downtown. Sankofa rented the facility it before they were able to move (into the Inner-City Cultural League at South West Street in Dover).

“They ran community programs and helped stabilize the community. (Bishop Blackshear) really was a true pioneer in helping to stabilize and better the community in that area and therefore it’s absolutely fitting that it is discussed whether to rename the park in his honor.”

Bishop Blackshear, who was born and raised in rural Alabama, came to Delaware in 1941 with his wife, Sylvia Smiley, and lived in Bridgeville before moving to New Castle County and later Dover. He left his indelible his mark on each community before dying in 2008 at the age of 92.

Elder Blackshear was consecrated bishop of the state of Delaware Jurisdiction Church of God in Christ in 1960 by Bishop Charles Harrison Mason. Under his leadership, the church grew from three churches in the state to 18. He helped design and build five churches and was known for his handyman skills.

One of 11 siblings, Bishop Blackshear attended public school in his native Alabama and began his career in the ministry. He spent much of his early years traveling the country to organize tent revivals and establish churches before coming to Delaware.

Bishop Blackshear served as the state’s bishop for nearly 50 years and was most recently pastor of two area churches — Bibleway Temple Institutional COGIC in Dover and New Holy Trinity COGIC in Millsboro — before his passing.

He accumulated a large collection of awards during his career, including citations from the city of Dover, the state of Delaware, the NAACP and the U.S. House of Representatives. He also held degrees from Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute, the New York Theological Seminary and the National College of Canada.

The Rev. Rita Mishoe Paige said naming the New Street park after Bishop Blackshear was a fitting honor for a man who gave as much to the Dover community as anybody. He was also the dean of the Interdenominational Ministry Alliance.

“Bishop Blackshear was one of the most respected pastors in Dover,” said the Rev. Paige. “The current Bible Way Temple building (at 54 Kirkwood St.) was built under his leadership. When he spoke, we listened. Bishop was a wise man, full of wisdom. He disciplined with love.

“He was a force to be reckoned with. He didn’t play when it came to things of God. He was very serious. He let you know when you were right, and he would let you know when you were wrong. He was a pastor’s pastor and was a very strong man. I think naming the New Street Park after him would be a great honor.”