Delaware Department of Transportation employees in February could hardly believe what they found as they cleared debris from under a bridge near Kenton: two tombstones, buried under the mud and rubble.
No one knows how the marble stones got there, or how long they lay under the bridge. What was known, though, was whose graves they had marked.
During a moving ceremony Sunday, June 9, the tombstones of the Rev. Henry J. Marshall and his wife, Georgeanna Marshall, were formally returned to the care of the church he founded more than a century ago.
It was a fitting tribute to an African American minister who dedicated his life to helping others, said Marshall's grandson, Charles W. Marshall Sr. of Dover.
Now 81, Charles Marshall was three years old when his grandfather died in 1935 at the age of 69. He was too young to remember the man, but soon knew of his reputation.
"People would come up to me and say, 'Your grandfather was a great man.'" Marshall said. "At the time, I didn't recognize why they said that.
"I found out later why he was great."
Born to a former slave family in 1865 on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Marshall came to Dover and founded a Baptist church, known as The Little Mission in 1902. It was a small, wooden building on Bank Lane that served a much larger purpose.
Racial segregation at that time meant blacks had little or no access to the same basic services as their white counterparts. Marshall saw it as his duty to minister not just to the spirit of Dover's poor, but their physical needs by providing food, shelter and day care, regardless of race. The Mission even served as a birthing center for women who would not be admitted to area hospitals simply because of their skin color.
City records show that in 1921, Marshall was one of the first black men to appear before the City Council of the day, lobbying for electric service in the poorer parts of town as well as clean water and sewer service because people were dying of typhoid and other diseases.
In 1919, Marshall bought land near Silver Lake to serve as a burial ground. That land now is part of three adjoining cemeteries off Madison Street, and is where Marshall was laid to rest. Georgeanna was buried next to him in 1939.
'His just due'
But Henry and Anna did not rest in peace. At some time in the past, someone took their headstones from the cemetery and dumped them in the waters of the Fork Branch.
The markers were turned over to DelDOT archaeologist David Clarke as soon as they were found.
Page 2 of 2 - The stones were in remarkable shape, even though about 10 percent of Georgeanna's was missing and approximately 30 percent of Henry's was not to be found, Clarke said.
"My assessment was that even though they were broken, they looked as if they had not been weathered," he said. "That made sense because if they had been under the bridge in the muck, they would have been protected from the weather."
Exactly when the stones were taken is unclear. Clarke feels they could have been buried for several decades, although Charles Marshall recalls seeing them much more recently.
An Internet inquiry and research by the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office helped Clarke locate Henry Marshall's surviving kin. They decided to give the original headstones to the Union Missionary Baptist Church, the current descendent of Marshall's Little Mission. The church has since loaned them to the Delaware Historical Society, where in September they will become part of a temporary exhibit on black churches in Delaware.
The state also provided a new marker for Henry and Georgeanna, which was dedicated Sunday.
Charles Marshall is pleased that the desecration of his grandparents' graves has been made right and that his grandfather in particular has gotten some of the recognition he was denied during his lifetime.
"I thought it is time to give granddad his just due," Marshall said. "We needed some sort of memorial to what he did. All that we are today is because of him."