HISTORY OF THE
REDDING HOUSE MUSEUM
AND COMMUNITY CENTER
310-312 EAST 11TH STREET
WILMINGTON, DELAWARE 19801
Louis Lorenzo Redding was born on October 25, 1901. His father graduated from Howard University in Washington D.C. and settled in Wilmington at the turn of the twentieth century. All the Redding children attended segregated public schools and graduated from Wilmington’s Howard High School.. Louis subsequently enrolled at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and graduated with honors in 1923. Redding enrolled at Harvard Law School in 1925. He was the only African-American in Harvard’s 1928 graduating class. The nest year, he became the first African-American admitted to practice law in Delaware. He remained the only African American lawyer in Delaware for over 20 years. Redding represented the plaintiffs in two Delaware cases that challenged segregation in Delaware’s public schools. These cases were consolidated with four other cases that are collectively remembered as Brown v. Board of Education In the Brown Case, the U. S. Supreme Court held that segregation in public education violated the U.S. Constitution.
During the more than 50 years that he practiced law in Delaware, Redding handled cases that successfully challenged discrimination in housing, public accommodations, employment and the criminal justice system. The Supreme Court opinions in some of these cases, including Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority and Parker v. University of Delaware continue to be taught in Constitutional Law throughout the United States.
Mr. Redding was the eldest of the Redding children, four of whom survived to adulthood. His parents, Lewis A. Redding and Mary Ann Holmes Redding, raised their children while residing at 203 East 10th Street in Wilmington, Delaware. At that time, this location was at the heart of an upscale, black neighborhood that occupied 10th, Walnut and French Streets. During the segregation era, French Street was the center of Wilmington’s black commercial district. This historic neighborhood was home to the segregated Walnut Street YMCA, still located at 10th and Walnut Streets. There were several Black churches located along Walnut and French Streets. Howard High School, then the only high school for African Americans in the entire state, was located nearby.
J. Saunders Redding, PhD was a noted author and the first African American college professor in the Ivy League. He also taught at several HCBUs including Morehouse and Southern, and served for more than a decade at Hampton University. Lillian Redding Bailey and C. Gwendolyn Redding were teachers in the Wilmington School System. The Redding sisters returned to live in the family residence after graduating from college. Lillian married Carroll Bailey (a decendant of Frederick Douglass) and moved to South Wilmington. His other sister, C. Gwendolyn Redding resided at the family residence until her death on December 31, 1993.
When MBNA Bank moved its offices to Wilmington, it purchased several of the residences along 9th, 10th, Walnut, French and King Streets. The Redding residence was one of them. MBNA agreed to provide financial assistance to defray the expense of relocating the residence to its present site at 310-312 East 11th Street, in Wilmington for the purpose of establishing the Redding House Museum. This museum serves to honor the Redding family’s contributions to civil rights, education, literature and culture.
The Redding House Foundation, Inc., a Delaware non-profit corporation, was established on September 15, 1997, for purposes of owning, operating, maintaining and preserving the Redding House as a museum and community center. The State of Delaware provided financial assistance relating to the acquisition and demolition of the two buildings that occupied 310-312 East 11th Street.
Because of the deteriorated condition of the residence it was necessary to completely renovate and restore the house, along with the furnishings located in the residence. Under the leadership of Mayor James H. Sills, Jr. and his successor, Mayor James Baker, the City of Wilmington provided financial assistance for restoration of the building. The furniture has been restored by prisoners working with Prison Industries, a division of the Delaware Corrections System and the house was opened in July, 2008.
The residential neighborhood surrounding the Redding house has been in decline for decades and now has the lowest per capita income of any neighborhood in Wilmington. Poverty resides in the shadow of banks, law firms, and other concerns that represent considerable wealth. The programs that will be conducted at the Redding House will seek to have a positive impact in the surrounding community. Programs will include periodic tours of the facility, lectures by community leaders, attorneys, educators and other speakers on various topics. Additionally there will be mentoring and educational programs for youth residing in the area.