“Should I write Happy Black History Month or It’s Black History Month?” my colleague Alex asked. “I want our post to be appropriate.”
We were discussing our social media post featuring Delaware’s first African American attorney, Louis L. Redding. Many people know about him but fewer are aware of the Delaware case that became the basis for the 1954 Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision that desegrated public spaces in America.
In 1950, Black students in Delaware were largely educated in crowded one-room schools with few supplies. Black students were not permitted to ride school buses and were not transported to their schools.
The Bulah family lived on a farm in Hockessin. Mrs. Bulah’s initial request for her daughter to ride the bus to her colored school (Hockessin 107c) was denied. Delaware law prohibited Black and white children from riding together on the same school bus.
Mrs. Bulah and attorney Redding filed suit against the State Board of Education. They sued for the daughter’s right to attend School 29, the white school (Bulah v Gebhart). The parents of eight black children from Claymont filed a parallel suit (Belton v Gebhart) and the cases were combined. The Court found that the school system violated the separate but equal clause in Delaware’s constitution.
In 1952, Judge Collins Seitz, Sr. found that the plaintiffs’ black schools were not equal to the white schools. He ordered the white schools to admit the plaintiff children. Seitz’ decision was appealed and upheld by the Delaware Supreme Court. This decision caused then-civil rights lawyer (later Supreme Court Justice) Thurgood Marshall to offer, “This is the first real victory in our campaign to destroy the segregation of American pupils in elementary and high schools.” And this victory came from Delaware.
The Delaware case was bundled with others from Virginia, Kansas and DC and reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Notably, the Delaware case was the only suit among the five that was successful at the state level. In the unanimous 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren repeatedly cited Judge Seitz’ opinions.
The brilliance of attorney Redding and the courage of Judge Seitz warrant cheers of celebration, making “Happy Black History month” an appropriate opening to our social media post.
However, we don’t live in a vacuum. The brutal beating and subsequent death of 29- year-old Tyre Nichols turned our happiness to tears. We offer heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of Mr. Nichols. His death, at the hands of police officers, fits a pattern that we in the DRJC continue to fight.
We can do two things at the same time. While we celebrate the people and accomplishments of African Americans in our nation’s history, we will simultaneously continue to fight for racial justice. Are you interested in being part of the fight? Here are some things you can do:
- Join us on Feb 8 for a community discussion in Bear on policing in New Castle County with the ACLU and others.
- Attend our Feb 8 DRJC general body meeting to learn about the HB 198 report from public and charter schools on their plans to incorporate Black history into K-12 curricula.
- Support our March 18 Black Student Summit in Middletown.
- Donate to our fight here.
But please do something. The children of our great state deserve to inherit the more equitable Delaware for which we are fighting. We need you to join with us in the fight!
Director, Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative
Read Feel Good Friday for February 3, 2023