One Love Park – Wilmington, Delaware - Atlas Obscura

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One Love Park

Before he was "Bob Marley, international reggae superstar," he was "Donald Marley," a Delaware resident and forklift operator working under an assumed name. This park tells the story. 

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Legend. The King of Reggae. The Prophet. And…Delawarean? Yes, Bob Marley, the internationally famous reggae superstar, was also an off-and-on resident of Wilmington, Delaware, for more than a decade, working everyday jobs to earn money, sometimes using an alias. This part of his history was little-known both during his lifetime and even today, and one of the few reminders of the great singer’s time in Delaware is found at the playground in front of his former home.

Bob Marley’s Delaware story actually begins with his mother, Cedella Booker. Cedella met her future husband, Wilmington resident Edward Booker, in 1955, while visiting her sister. After leaving the father of Bob’s future bandmate, Bunny Livingston (Wailer), Cedella would move to North Wilmington in the early 1960s, where her sister and other family members lived as part of a tight-knit community of ex-pats. 

Bob would stay behind in Kingston, Jamaica, forming the Wailers with his childhood friends Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. But even as songs such as “Simmer Down” raced up the charts in Kingston, the Wailers were paid little for their work, earning only $20 for their first single. So Bob joined his mother in 1963 at age 18, looking for a place to live and to earn money to support his burgeoning music career. Bob worked a variety of odd jobs, including cleaner at the DuPont Hotel, lab assistant at the DuPont Experimental Plant, and a forklift operator at the Chrysler plant. (The latter experience would become the basis of his future song, “Night Shift.”) At Chrysler, he worked under an alias, “Donald Marley,” to keep a low profile as a U.S. resident and separate his life in Jamaica from that in the States.

Desperately homesick, Bob returned to Jamaica in 1964, where his long rise to superstardom began. He used the money from his time in Delaware to create Wail ‘N Soul ‘M, a rocksteady record label that would eventually become Tuff Gong International. But he would frequently return to Wilmington with his wife Rita, eventually buying the house next to his mother’s on Tatnall Street. He continued to keep a low profile in America, even turning down an invite from a friend to attend the Woodstock festival (not as a performer, but to work as a jewelry salesman with his friend Ibis Pitts). 

Even after Marley’s career began breaking out in the early 1970s, he was still drawn to Delaware, where his son Stephen was born and several of his children would grow up. His mother also remained in Delaware, opening up a Jamaican music shop on Market Street called Roots. Even as late as 1977, after Marley had already become an icon, he would still occasionally return to Delaware to visit his mother. Marley’s Delaware connection would only be reported on in the local newspaper twice during his lifetime, each time by happenstance.

After Marley’s tragic death due to cancer in 1981, there was some movement by friends and family to recognize his connection to his adopted state. Ibis and Genoveva Pitts, his Delaware friends, launched the People’s Festival with the support of Cedella Booker. The festival is an annual tribute to the singer, held in Wilmington. 

In 2015, after a renovation cleaned up the dilapidated playground across the street from Marley and Booker’s former home, it was renamed “One Love Park” after Marley’s most famous song. One photo still exists of the singer and his son in Delaware in front of the playground. And in early 2024, plans were announced to open the Jamaican Heritage & Reggae Museum, to honor not only the legendary singer, but also the 6,000 Delaware residents who claim Jamaican heritage, bringing the community and culture that supported Bob Marley even closer to the spotlight.

Know Before You Go

Bob Marley's former home on 2311 Tatnall Street is not a secret, but it is a private residence, so please be respectful of its current occupants. The park is open daily.

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