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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 Delawares
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 Delawares 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, Delawares only black secondary school until the
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 programs 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
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. Thats 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 couldnt afford it financially and many
people dropped out of school talented people," said
Eldridge J. Waters in the program.
"We dont know how many of them became disillusioned
Racial segregation in Delawares 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 Ponts 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 programs 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 Americas
economic and technological heritage. For more information, visit
Hagleys website at www.hagley.org.
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