Constitutional Places: Parking Garage from Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority Demolished

January 5th, 2014

In the late 1950s, the Wilmington Parking Authority operated the Midtown Parking Center, which included the Eagle Coffee Shoppe. Several african-americans staged as it-in at the counter at the Coffee Shoppe, and refused to leave. Later, a black city councilman, William Burton, parked at the garage, and went to the coffee shop, where he was refused service.

In Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority (1961),  the Court, per Justice Clark, found that the coffee shop and parking garage were closely related to the state, and were state actors for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment. Further, the Court found a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Now, the Parking Garage is scheduled for demolition.

The Mid-Town Parking Garage and several vacant stores in a city block considered crucial to downtown Wilmington’s revitalization are being demolished – and an important piece of Delaware’s civil rights history is going down with them.

One of the stores on Ninth Street between Orange and Shipley streets was once the Eagle Coffee Shoppe, where City Councilman William H. “Dutch” Burton was refused service in 1958 because he was black.

The coffee shop and the garage it was attached to were owned by the Wilmington Parking Authority at the time. Burton sued the authority and won in Chancery Court, but the decision was overturned by the Delaware Supreme Court, in part because of a state law that gave private businesses the right to not serve anyone who would be “offensive” to other customers.

The coffee shop eventually closed and the parking authority sold the stores and the garage to a private company. For 35 years, the building that houses the coffee shop was the site of the Ninth Street Book Shop before it moved a few blocks to Market Street last year.

H/T David S. Cohen

Here are some pictures of the parking center taken during the 1960s.