on Apr. 23 at an all-day University of Delaware symposium to
mark the anniversary, Mitchell, who represents Delaware on the
national commission commemorating the event, said about half of
the school districts in southern and border states directly
affected by the decision were deemed integrated in 1990. The
combination of residential patterns, recent backsliding by
courts and transfers of white children to private schools has
reduced that proportion to 30%.
third of black children attend schools regarded as 'hypersegregated';
that is, having a 90% or larger proportion of black students,
according to Juan Williams, a senior correspondent with National
Public Radio and political analyst for Fox News. "Education is a
commodity middle-class and upper-class parents purchase for
their children. If you're poor and can't afford it, you're out
of luck," he said.
the tone for the day as 20 speakers lauded progress toward
racial equality since the Brown decision has handed down
on May 17, 1954, but lamented the fact that no where near the
expected results have been achieved.
doesn't live in the same world his grandfather lived in.
Brown is one of the things that is the reason," said Robert
Cottrol, a George Washington University law school professor.
are places still reserved for whites 50 years after Brown.
Many of those places are schools," said Robert Hayman, who
teaches law at Widener University.
Delaware played in setting the stage for the landmark decision
was highlighted throughout the day. Suits brought by parents in
the Claymont and Hockessin districts led to one of the five
cases the high court consolidated. The Delaware case was the
only one in which the decision -- by Chancellor Collins Seitz in
Court of Chancery and upheld by the state Supreme Court -- was
Greenberg, now a professor in Columbia University's law school,
who had joined Wilmington lawyer Louis Redding in successfully
arguing the suit before Seitz and later before the U.S. Supreme
Court, noted an even more substantive contribution. Basing his
reasoning on Redding's argument, Seitz's opinion called into
question the constitutional validity of the 'separate but equal'
doctrine which had prevailed since the late 1800s. "There is no
doubt that [Seitz's position] had an important impact."
Greenberg said during his talk.
the highest court's ruling, the Delaware decision in an earlier
case involving the University of Delaware, called for immediate,
not eventual, compliance. As a result, Greenberg said, the
university was the first formerly segregated institutions to
integrate at the undergraduate level.
Seitz Jr. said his late father made it a practice to couch his
decisions and rulings in terns that had immediate application.
"He didn't order that blacks be admitted [to the university];
instead he enjoined using their race not be a criterion for
determining [their] admission," he said.
Greenberg pointed out that Seitz's
decisions exposed him to potential political and possible
physical harm. The university decision came at a time when the
young jurist, then a vice chancellor,
expected to be appointed chancellor. That gubernatorial
appointment required state Senate confirmation, a process
rendered difficult by a decision to which many Delawarean,
including senators, objected.
The threat of being the victim of
physical violence was very real to Orlando Camp, one of 11 black
who, who with the late Louis Redding, successfully
argued Delaware's public school desegregation cases,
talks with Stuart Young (at the left in the left photo),
son of the then state attorney general who defended the
suit, and Collins Seitz Jr., (right in the other photo)
son of the judge who heard the case and handed down the
only ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in the
landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
Milford High School in September, 1954, as a 15-year-old
sophomore. "There were 687 [white students] in the senior high
school [and] 11 blacks were told in August that we were going to
be attending for the first time," he recalled.
first few days went very smoothly. ... Then all hell broke
loose," he said. A rumor that a black boy was going to invite a
white girl to be his date at a dance swept the town and crowds
growing in size assembled daily in front of the school. "I
thought this (going to school) was not going to be an easy
situation," he said.
wasn't. A demagogue by the name of Bryant Bowles showed up,
stirred up the crowd to a point where, even though state police
were called in, the school board backed down, removed the
students from the school and ordered them to attend Jason High,
the 'colored' school in Georgetown. For Camp, that meant an
hour-and-a-half bus ride instead of a four-block walk. He
experienced integrated education for just 24 days.
Minner then was a younger schoolgirl, also a resident of
Milford. She referred to it as a time of fear. But, the governor
said, "Delaware had people of courage, who would be heard and
[eventually] make the change." She lauded the courage of those
people -- Redding in particular -- and their willingness to work
through the judicial system to accomplish their goals.
faith in God that He would show the way," she said. "They walked
to the door of power. They knocked and the door opened."
Albert Young, than attorney general, also faced personal danger
when he offered to escort the black youngsters through the
protesting crowd into the Milford school, his son, Allen, said.
His position required the senior Young to defend the state Board
of Education against the desegregation suit but, when the
Supreme Court ruled, he declined to join his counterparts in
other affected states in "any meeting dealing with anything
other than enforcing the decision," Allen Young said.
was, in some ways, an unlikely agent of that change, said
Annette Woolard-Provine, who has published a biography of the
lawyer and his family. An urbane man, he yielded to his father's
wishes "and stayed in Wilmington -- a town he hated -- in
segregated Delaware" instead of realizing his ambition to
practice law in socially and professionally cosmopolitan New
York or a New England city, she said. "He sacrificed most of his
desires for the common good."
was the first black man admitted to practice law in Delaware.
Between 1929 and 1956 he was the only black lawyer in the state.
telling anecdote concerns how he heard the news of the Brown
decision while driving alone to New York. Overcome by emotion he
stopped his car and whispered a few congratulatory words to
himself. "Then he put it back in gear and went on with his
work," she said.
Senator Joseph Biden, the longest-serving member of the
Judiciary Committee and its former chairman, told the symposium
that the nation "is at a turning point in constitutional
history." He said the Supreme Court is "just one vote away" from
having the five votes necessary to change the direction which
has prevailed for the half century since the justices decided
will be at least one and maybe as many as four [vacancies on the
bench] in the next four-and-a-half years," he said, adding that
"it will make a difference whether [the appointment] is made by
one [presidential] nominee or the other." Biden, a Democrat,
supports John Kerry to succeed President George Bush.
Raffel, a U. of Del. urban affairs professor, said a significant
element in determining what happens in the near future comes
down to whether African-American parents "accept a greater
amount of [school] segregation [in exchange for] more
opportunity for their children." The charter school movement is
attractive to them -- both in Delaware and around the nation --
because it offers the prospect of "being better than what the
community has now" in terms of educational achievement although
research indicates that charter schools, in that respect, are
not very different from conventional public schools, he said.
Lockman, a News Journal editor and columnist, said there is
considerable "in-school segregation" in Delaware. "You still
find advanced classes that are predominantly white and special
education classes that are predominantly black and in some cases
all-black," he said.
Del. provost Daniel Rich told the seminar that the university is
a vivid example of what has happened in the 50 years since
Brown came down. "The ruling was a turning point for
America," he said. "We were forced to change [and now] diversity
is an institutional priority.
said she will not be satisfied that the ruling achieved its full
promise "until we can see the [student test] scores that show
race doesn't matter."