Illustration by Tim Foley
Founded in 1876, The Monday Club has a historical marker to honor its legacy as one of the nation’s oldest social organizations for black men.
The Monday Club’s founding members cherished the start of a new week. Working as butlers, cooks, chauffeurs and in other service industry roles in the late 1800s, these Black men found solace in a special space at 917 N. French St. in Wilmington. They’d meet on Mondays—typically their only day off from work—for drinks and conversation. This club was one of the only places the members could socialize freely, because segregation restricted the businesses Black men could patronize.
Founded in 1876, the club may be the oldest of its kind in the U.S., according to its members’ archival research. Today, its significance is celebrated with a historical marker on North French Street between 8th and 9th streets.
“We were happy to see that we were being recognized,” says financial secretary Vincent Robinson, who serves on the board of directors.
While the marker denotes the clubhouse’s original address, The Monday Club relocated to New Castle in 2002. Today, members relax in a restaurant-style atmosphere with a bar and a cigar lounge.
Over its 145 years, the club’s members have included civil rights champions and political figures. Louis L. Redding was instrumental in desegregating school and lunch counters in Delaware. James Gilliam Sr. worked as the Greater Wilmington Development Council’s director of neighborhood and housing services, and James H. Sills Jr. was Wilmington’s first Black mayor.
At its inception, the club’s mission was to promote political involvement, socioeconomic freedom and cultural enrichment.
“Together, [early members] worked to shape the framework in the community to help bring about social changes and give minorities a voice in Wilmington,” Robinson says.
Over time, the club shed its political identity for a more apolitical affiliation while allowing members to focus on causes outside of organization events. Today, its 100-plus members (60 is the average age) participate in community service projects, sponsoring youth sports and holding annual events such as the Easter Monday Ball. It’s now integrated, and all men in Delaware are welcomed to apply.
Women, too, have found a way to support the club through an informal group called The Jewels, which formed several years ago, Robinson says. The group is typically made up of members’ wives who assist the club in its event planning and other activities.
During the height of the pandemic, meetings were held virtually, with a few members coming to the club for socially distanced conversation. Earlier this summer, the club first reopened to members, and later the public.
Robinson was the driving force in getting the club its historic marker. He says that during one of their regular meetings, a member asked why there wasn’t already one in the city. So, Robinson called Delaware State Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden. She sponsored the club’s push for a marker, and about a year later, in October 2020, their wishes were honored.
“It was important to acknowledge this important piece of our history, which highlighted the Eastside [neighborhood] and role models who lived among us that were members of The Monday Club,” Bolden says.
She says this marker took a bit longer than usual due to the research and need for historic accuracy.
Robinson hopes the marker brings in new members looking to keep its legacy alive.
“That’s one of our problems…that the younger generation is not aware of our long-standing history and what we do in the community,” he explains.
Gary Fullman has been a member of the club for almost 40 years and has held multiple titles within the organization, including president. He says over the years the club has tried to appeal to a younger demographic, including offering opportunities for personal mentoring and career building.
The historical marker recounts the club’s legacy, which Fullman hopes will keep it alive in the future.
“It’s important that our children see an organization or know that there was an organization…that’s committing to help its own,” he explains.
Robert Oliver joined The Monday Club when he was 44 and has enjoyed his 20-year involvement. As a lifelong Delawarean, he’d visit the original club on French Street with his friends whose fathers were members at the time. After conversations with them and learning about the club’s history, he decided to become a member later in life.
Since then, Oliver has served on different committees for community events like the Easter Monday Ball and currently works as the club’s bar manager. He says event and annual drives are helping to continually attract new, younger members.
Robinson sees the changes The Monday Club has made over its century-plus existence as something its founders would celebrate as beneficial to keeping their legacy alive.
“I’m confident that they would agree that their efforts were not in vain,” he says, “as the progressive movements that they championed have indeed continued.”