DOVER — Simply put, Dr. Margaret McKay won’t stand for a bully.
“I’m one of those people who doesn’t like bullies — whether they’re (bullying because of race) or any other way,” Dr. McKay said.
That inherent tenacity is what first drove Dr. McKay’s fight for change in Dover.
Some 40 years later, her efforts came to fruition, when Andre Boggerty won election to the at-large Dover City Council seat in April. With Councilman Boggerty’s win, the entity is now composed of a majority of African Americans.
Councilman Boggerty and Chelle Paul, chairperson of the Criminal Justice Committee for the NAACP Delaware State Conference of Branches, recently met with Dr. McKay to talk about her work and how it paved the way for the council win.
In the 1980s, about a third of Dover’s population was Black, but there were no Black people serving on City Council. To cast a vote in local elections, Dover citizens had to register at City Hall separately, on top of registering with the county for state and federal elections.
Cecil Wilson, former NAACP Central Branch president, and then-Councilman Robin Christiansen (now the mayor of Dover) questioned that setup at the time. They contacted Dr. McKay, a New Jersey native working as a political science professor at Delaware State University. She tasked her students with preparing a presentation for the council that outlined the problems with requiring citizens to register to vote in that manner.
Then-Mayor Crawford Carroll, however, refused to hear what Dr. McKay’s students had to say, Mr. Wilson added.
Using Dr. McKay’s data, Mr. Wilson contacted the national NAACP in Washington, D.C., which took up a case against the city. Dennis Hayes, NAACP general counsel, sued Dover in 1985 for being in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — which, in theory, outlawed discriminatory voting practices and ended legal barriers at the state and local level that prevented Black people from taking part in elections.
When the case was heard, Dr. McKay, in Ms. Paul’s words, “hammered it out in court.”
“Yeah. That was a lot of fun,” Dr. McKay said.
The result of the lawsuit was the creation of the 4th District, a majority-minority district currently represented by Councilmen David Anderson and Roy Sudler Jr.
And in another history-making moment, on May 10 of this year, Councilman Sudler was elected by his peers to serve as council president — marking the first time a Black person has held that position.
Dr. McKay told Councilman Boggerty and Ms. Paul that she was driven to do the work because she “hates bullies” — and bullying of any type, whether it be race or gender.
“And then, you won,” Ms. Paul said.
“We won,” Dr. McKay said.
Councilman Boggerty’s win makes him the fifth Black person to serve on City Council. For Ms. Paul, Dr. McKay’s work highlights the importance of fighting for what is right and, without it, Councilman Boggerty may not have had the opportunity to be elected. She said Dr. McKay’s work is “still moving, still going.”
“This was a White woman that did not have to take the time to fight for something that really didn’t affect her,” Ms. Paul said. “People need to see that you have people that don’t look like you that are fighting for you just because it’s right.”
Ms. Paul said Dr. McKay “spoke truth to power” to make sure her students and Dover citizens would have representation that reflected the population they serve. U.S. Census data from 2019 shows that Dover’s population is majority Black, at 46.5%. The next highest group is the White population, at 43.1%.
“I’m a believer that anyone who has the guts can do anything they want to do. People are scared, or they’re scared that people will laugh at them,” Dr. McKay said. “You empower yourself even if you’re not successful.”