Star Hill Church Museum’s future uncertain

Lucreatia Wilson was one of the founders of the Star Hill Museum 32 years ago. She is contemplating leaving the museum to be closer to her family in Utah. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

DOVER – The historic Star Hill Church Museum, which is listed in the National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program, might be nearing its final destination.

Lucreatia Wilson, director of the museum, will soon be leaving Delaware to be closer to family in Utah, which could put the future of the facility in jeopardy.

She helped found the museum, which celebrates African American history, 32 years ago.

Ms. Wilson recently gathered her support staff of Florence Brown, Virginia Harris, Barbara Hickson and Dr. Vivian Griffin together to let them know of her intentions.

“We just kind of touched on it a week ago and we decided to pray on it and see what the Lord says,” Ms. Wilson said. “Right now, the future is up in the air. I’ve been doing this, plus working a regular job, for 31 years. It’s time.”

She said she would like to see another facility step up to display all of the African-American historical items that currently fill the walls and shelves of the museum, which is located in a back wing of the Star Hill A.M.E. Church at 357 Voshells Mill Star Hill Road.

“I’m not going to give it to the state’s collections,” said Ms. Wilson. “I’m not going to do that, but I would like to place it somewhere where it will have a permanent home where they will continue to tell the story of what it was like to live as a slave and what it was like to escape on the Underground Railroad.”

A Juneteenth Celebration

Guests at the Juneteenth Celebration at the Star Hill A.M.E. Church on Saturday got the chance to learn about Underground Railroad history through the eyes of Willis Phelps, a historian and Civil War re-enactor.

Phyllis Davis, portraying Harriet Tubman, sings “Steal Away” during the Juneteenth Celebration at the Star Hill AME Church on Saturday. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

The program was attended by around 25 people, including Rep. Trey Paradee, Kent County Levy Court Commissioner Jody Sweeney and Dover City Councilmen David Anderson and Fred Neil.

Mr. Phelps and his oldest daughter, Phyllis Davis, put on a three-part presentation with the theme, “Once Upon a Time in America.”

“This is our American history story and that means all of us, no matter what your race or culture is,” Mr. Phelps said. “It is all of our history.”

The opening part of the play was titled “Esau,” in which Mr. Phelps acted as a former slave/soldier who talked about “Juneteenth,” an American holiday that commemorates the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. state of Texas.

Ms. Davis, who portrayed Harriet Tubman, took center stage for the second act, “The Conductor, Harriet Ross Tubman,” as she walked among the pews at Star Hill A.M.E. Church singing chilling songs about the Underground Railroad experience.

Willie Phelps, a historian and Civil War re-enactor, was the focal point of a three-part play during the Juneteenth Celebration at the Star Hill AME Church on Saturday. The theme of the historic play was “Once Upon a Time in America.” (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

“It’s thrilling getting the chance to portray Harriet Tubman,” Ms. Davis said. “I love doing it. I love teaching a part of history and doing what I can to bring history to life.”

Mr. Phelps changed into a dark blue Union soldier’s uniform for the final act, “Pvt. James H. Elbert, United States Colored Troops; Rescue mission at the Combahee River, South Carolina.”

The future remains unclear

While programs such as the Juneteenth Celebration are popular and informative, Ms. Wilson believes the Star Hill Church Museum needs more space in the future if it wants to flourish.

Ms. Wilson is the founder/president of the Star Hill Historical Society and a founding member of the Underground Railroad Coalition of Delaware.

All of the items, including historic documents, books, photographs, a display of African-American culture and a table of inventions by African Americans, are on display at the museum.

It is a natural fit to have the museum at the church considering the church was a safe place for freedom seekers and a site for anti-slavery meetings.

However, it doesn’t appear to have adequate space for all of its historical items, which were all purchased out-of-pocket by the staff at the museum throughout the years.

Star Hill A.M.E. Reverend Rita Mishoe Paige said her church will always continue to tell its history.

“We want you to know that we are going to continue our programs,” Rev. Paige said. “Our history has to be told because if we don’t tell it no one else will.

“It’s not in the history books and so we have to continue to research and continue to tell the research that we find.”

As for Ms. Wilson, she said she will continue to pray.

“Right now the museum will remain open,” she said. “We will continue to pray and wait for God’s direction of where and which direction that we should go.”

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