Photograph courtesy of Damon Pla.

Can you locate the mural that honors Otis Smith and depicts the menhaden fishing industry in the 1940s? 

As you leave The Pig and Publican and are wiping that last bit of mayonnaise from your mouth (you did eat your fries Belgian style, didn’t you?), turn to your left and be amazed by a mural that nearly covers the building’s side, all but invisible from the street. The location is no mistake — the mural is a tribute to Otis Smith, former mayor of Lewes, and it overlooks the park that carries his name.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, segregation in housing, schools and public accommodations was still a part of life in our area. Progress was slow in the fight for equal rights for African Americans and political support for change was even slower to arrive. 

Up stepped Otis Smith, owner of the menhaden fish-processing plants in Lewes and mayor of Lewes from 1950 to 1968. Smith thought that racial discrimination was immoral and decided to do something about it. He reached out to fellow mayors, religious leaders, business owners, media outlets and politicians of all stripes to form the alliances required to create effective civil rights legislation.

In addition to working for equal rights, Otis Smith served on the Board of Directors of Beebe Hospital and oversaw many civic improvements in Lewes, including the building a of public dock, running electric and water lines to Lewes Beach and developing Lewes City Hall. Smith also is credited with helping to establish the University of Delaware’s marine science program in Lewes.

In the spring of 2019, artist Damon Pla created this large-scale mural, which depicts a scene from the Lewes menhaden fishing industry and honors Otis Smith. “I call it ‘First Catch’,” explains the artist, “because I envisioned that first beam of light coming up and warming the fishermen’s shoulders — that first catch of the morning.”

The Menhaden Mural project was organized by Art in Bloom, which partnered with the Lingo family, who owns the property, to honor the legacy of Otis Smith.

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