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AFRICAN AMERICAN EDUCATION IN DELAWARE
DURING THE JIM CROW ERA IS SUBJECT OF
"A SEPARATE PLACE: THE SCHOOLS P.S. DU PONT BUILT"

A SEPARATE PLACE: THE SCHOOLS THAT P. S. DU PONT BUILT will premiere during Black History Month on Sunday, February 23 at 6 p.m. on WHYY TV12. The one-hour documentary, produced by the Hagley Museum and Library, is about the ambiguous legacy of segregation, and ultimate desegregation in 1967, of Delaware’s public school system.

Focusing on the 89 schools built by Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954), the program includes many contemporary images and compelling interviews with teachers and students whose lives span 75 years of African-American education in Delaware. The documentary also looks at current efforts by black Delawareans to preserve, restore, and reclaim their former schools as sites of African-American culture and heritage.
A SEPARATE PLACE recalls the efforts of African-Americans to obtain quality education during the period in the 1920s when Delaware mandated racial segregation in its schools. Education was a priority for the black community since it provided one of the only vehicles for economic advancement during the Jim Crow era. "The two most compelling aspects of the film are the determination and persistence of African-Americans in pursuing educational opportunities and the support and guidance provided by dedicated African-American teachers," said Dr. Jeanne Nutter, Executive Producer of A SEPARATE PLACE.

Appalled by Delaware’s segregated system for collecting school taxes, du Pont spent more than $6 million to build African-American schools. This included more than $1 million for Howard High School, Delaware’s only black secondary school until the 1950s.

The schools built by du Pont dramatically improved the conditions under which black students were taught. These improvements, as well as the limitations which preceded them, are detailed in the program’s interviews with former students and teachers from "colored" schools.

The schools were not only educational facilities, but also served as cultural centers for the African-American community. "This is one of the better schools that Mr.
du Pont built because we [had an auditorium]," said James Hardcastle in the program about his alma mater, Booker T. Washington School. "Back in those days, there was no place in Dover where black folks had an opportunity to congregate other than the churches."

Once the schools were erected, they were turned over to black educators who then controlled them under the segregated school system. In addition to providing basic educational needs, teachers taught students about the arts, politics, homemaking, woodworking and also gave vocational instruction. "The teachers were very kind to us. They taught how to do everything. They taught us life," said Sam Peterson in the program.

Even though the teachers were exceptional and the school buildings were state-of-the art, the education resources available to students were inferior. From books to baseball bats, all supplies came from white schools, once they had become too worn for white students to use. A SEPARATE PLACE cites how books would often arrive at African-American schools with rolls of scotch tape so the torn pages could be repaired. This also meant much of the information contained in the books was outdated. "When they (white students) were reading about Lindberg, we were still reading about the Wright Brothers. That’s how far behind we were," said Gladys Clark in the program.

The program also explores how access to education after 8th grade was severely limited by racial segregation and blacks often could not attend secondary schools reserved for whites in their own communities. Howard High School in Wilmington was over 100 miles from communities in the Southern part of the state, and most students did not have the funds to relocate. "Some people couldn’t afford it financially and many people dropped out of school — talented people," said Eldridge J. Waters in the program.

"We don’t know how many of them became disillusioned and discouraged."
Racial segregation in Delaware’s education system finally ended in 1967, but as in many other states, the results of integration were disappointing for the black community. According to the program, black students were disproportionately assigned to special education tracks. Desegregation also affected African-American educators and administrators who found themselves unwelcome at integrated schools. Many lost their positions of authority and faced relocation and reassignment.
Today, many African-Americans in Delaware are working to preserve, restore and reclaim their former schools as sites of African-American culture and heritage. In the program, former students of Christina 111C, which was destroyed by fire in 1990, discuss how they have raised thousands of dollars from bake sales to restore the school to its original state.

The program draws resources from the collections of the Hagley Museum and Library, as well as P. S. du Pont’s personal photographs, architectural plans of schools, and letters from African-American school children. It also uses materials from the Delaware Historical Society, the Delaware State Archives, Howard High School, the National Archives and filmed oral interviews.
Dr. Jeanne Nutter is the program’s Executive Producer. Alonzo Crawford is the Director and Cinematographer.

Principal funding for A SEPARATE PLACE was provided by the Longwood Foundation. Hagley Museum and Library and the Delaware Humanities Forum, a state agency of the National Endowment for the Humanities, also supported the making of the program.

The Hagley Museum and Library is a nonprofit educational institution dedicated to the preservation and understanding of America’s economic and technological heritage. For more information, visit Hagley’s website at www.hagley.org.

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