Delaware’s history in Brown v. Board honored with memorial 

Jarek RutzCulture, Headlines

A new memorial honoring Delaware's impact in the desegregation of schools and the Brown v. Board case was unveiled in Dover Thursday.

A new memorial honoring Delaware’s impact in the desegregation of schools and the Brown v. Board case was unveiled in Dover Thursday.

A new monument in Dover marks Delaware’s role in the desegregation of American schools the day before the country celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case.

Community members, authors, historians and legislators joined Thursday morning to unveil the memorial on the grounds of Legislative Hall. 

“Whenever people put stumbling blocks in your way, you use those as a stepping stone for something better,” said Reba Ross Hollingsworth, vice-chair of the Delaware Heritage Commission

Reba Ross Hollingsworth

Reba Ross Hollingsworth

Hollingsworth is in her mid-90s, which no one would know if they judged by her wit, humor and the complete control she had of the audience.

She grew up during segregation and taught during it. 

Hollingsworth described being able to walk to her local Milford school, but not being able to enroll. 

In 10th grade, she was moved to Booker T. Washington School and eventually attended Delaware State College, where she graduated with a degree in home economics.

Two prominent entities in the desegregation in the country were the Claymont Twelve and the Milford Eleven.

The Claymont Twelve  were a group of 12 Black students who in September 1952 were legally allowed to attend the all-white Claymont High School.

They were the first Black students to integrate in all of the 17 states that allowed school segregation.

Gov. John Carney pointed out that the process wasn’t seamless. White students were just as much questioning how to act in this situation as the Black students, he said, and life went on without violence.

The Milford Eleven, however, didn’t have the same experience.

 Ed Kee, co-author of “The Milford Eleven,” spoke at the ceremony. 

This group consisted of 11 Black students in 10th grade who, just a few years after the Claymont Twelve in September 1954, were enrolled in Milford high School.

They were met with a lot of resistance, hatred and sometimes violence. There were several protests in Milford calling for the removal of the Black students. 

Delaware Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr., son of the late Judge Seitz, spoke about how proud he was of his father for making rulings that enabled Delaware school segregation.

Seitz spoke of the courage it took for his father to make those decisions in the face of public backlash.  

RELATED: Hockessin Colored School No. 107 opens as historic site

The monument is six feet tall and a few feet wide. It depicts portraits of significant Delawareans and pivotal locations during desegregation.

It points out another example of the First State’s significance, the case Bulah v. Gebhart. 

The Bulah family sued the state over school segregation after parents Fred and Sarah Bulah wrote to Gov. Elbert Carvel and asked the state to allow their daughter Shirley to attend the local school and take the school bus that drove by her house each day.

The state rejected their request.

Even though Shirley had a bus stop near her home, it only served White children who attended Hockessin School  No. 29, which would later become Howard High School.

Shirley’s mother had to drive her two miles to the nearest school for Black children, Hockessin Colored School No. 107.

The Bulahs sought legal assistance from Delaware’s first Black attorney, Louis Redding, who in 1951 filed Bulah v. Gebhart.

After Seitz Sr.’s ruling, Black students were admitted into Hockessin School No. 29s.

Hockessin Colored School No. 107 closed in 1959.

Eventually, Bulah v. Gebhart was one of five cases consolidated into Brown v. Board of Education.

On Friday, New Castle County Executive Director Matt Meyer will head a celebration of the Brown v. Board decision at 10 a.m. at Hockessin Colored School 107. 

The event will include the first screening of “Return to Hockessin #107C,” a 30-minute documentary featuring students sharing their recollections of the school, their classmates and what the school meant to the community then and what it stands for today.

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