In other times, the meeting in the school superintendent's office would not be out of the ordinary. Eight students had come to request transfer into the district's high school. They all lived in the proper attendance area and carried no academic or disciplinary baggage which might make them unwelcome.

But it was not a routine meeting. It was Jan. 15, 1951, and there was an impediment: The youngsters were of a darker hue that their prospective classmates. They were, in the parlance of the time, Negroes.

Claymont superintendent Harvey Stahl has no choice. State law was clear on the subject. Such students has 'their own' schools. No matter that 'their' schools, Howard High and Carver Vocational, were about nine miles away in Wilmington and that property tax their parents paid helped finance operation of Claymont High, which was within walking distance.

That meeting was one of several starting points around the nation along paths which would lead to a veritable social revolution ending nearly a century of legal apartheid and three centuries of perceived sub-human status imposed upon blacks by slavery.

As preparations go forward for commemorating in May the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education (of Topeka, Kan.), relatively few Delaware residents are aware of the state's pivotal role in ending not only racial segregation in education but also knocking down the 'separate but equal' prop which supported a broad range of discrimination ranging from genteel to murderous.

Two Delaware lawsuits -- one involving Claymont High and the other elementary School No. 29 in Hockessin -- were combined with seven cases from other jurisdictions and brought before the Supreme Court. While historic focus since then has been directed mainly toward the Kansas case and those from southern states, Delaware's has the distinction of being the only one in which lower court decisions were upheld, rather than overturned.

As a result of the decision in the Claymont suit, the school on Green Street was the first formerly segregated public high school in a border or southern state to be integrated. It awarded diplomas to its first black graduates less than a month after the Supreme Court ruled.

An even more substantive distinction lies in the near-rejection of 'separate but equal' by the first-level Delaware judge. In his recorded opinion Chancellor Collins Seitz acknowledged that Delaware

Court of Chancery could not "reject a principle of United States constitutional law which has been adopted by fair implication by the highest court of the land." But, he went on to say, "I believe the 'separate but equal' doctrine in education should be rejected, but I also believe its rejection must come from that court." Two years and one month later, the Supreme Court did just that.

Most, if not all, of the other judges who ruled against the status quo decreed that bringing unequal 'colored' schools up to parity would satisfy the law and they gave authorities considerable amounts of time to come up with a plan to do so. Seitz ruled that, since the separate schools were grossly unequal, they should be integrated "immediately."

In a talk a few years ago before an American Association of Retired Persons group, the late Evelyn Tryon, widow of Sager Tryon, a Claymont school board member in the early 1950s, said another distinction was that, when the issue was joined, the board and Stahl "wanted to admit the students."  Because of that, the local school authorities encouraged the filing of the suit.

That is hinted at in minutes from board meetings at the time which now repose in the state archives.  Although the minutes-taker followed the still-prevalent practice among public agencies of  not recording anything that would actually chronicle the temper and nature of deliberation at the sessions, it is possible to read between

History was made on Green Street when 11 black children walked up this path an into Claymont High School in September, 1952, two years before Brown v. Board of Education struck down the 'separate but equal' doctrine that had segregated public education. The building now houses the Claymont Community Center.

the skimpy lines.

Stahl reported on the session with the children and some of their parents at a meeting of the board on Jan. 29, recounting that the parent-spokeswoman for the group quickly cut to the chase by declaring that the group "understood the matter perfectly well, but that they just wanted to enter a formal application." They and he evidently knew that was intended to provide grounds for a lawsuit.

The board then decided to assure that there would be no question about whether a serious effort to obtain admission of the students was made. It voted to send, over the signature of Eugene Fletcher, its president, identical formal letters of rejection to the parents. The key paragraph: "Therefore under the requirements of our Delaware state constitution and the existing school laws, your child is not now eligible to enroll in the Claymont Special School District high school for white children."

In addition to Fletcher and Tryon, the vice president, Edward Rowles and George Brown were members of the school board. They were all present at the meeting and there is no indication in the minutes of any dissent.

The expected suit was filed in Court of Chancery in July, but minutes of board sessions during the summer of 1951 contain no references to it. The board, meanwhile was active doing what local school boards do -- planning a referendum and succeeding in obtaining voter approval for a bond issue to finance school expansions; reluctantly raising the price of milk served in cafeterias by a penny to 6 a half pint; and authorizing an alumni group to use the high school gymnasium for basketball games.

It was not until Oct. 11, 1951, that the history-making suit emerges in the board's extant public record. It was reported that evening that, in response to a request for cooperation from state school superintendent George Miller, Stephen Wright, of Hampton Institute, and Paul Lawrence, of Howard University, had been welcomed to the high school in order to conduct "a complete study of [its] facilities and educational opportunities." Wright and Lawrence were called to testify as expert witnesses.

Stahl appeared as a witness on Oct. 24. That was noted, but the minutes do not report on what he said.

Seitz, state attorney general Albert Young, and lawyers Louis Redding and Jack Greenberg, who represented the parent plaintiffs, visited the building on Oct. 30.

Seitz's decision was handed down on Apr. 1, 1952,

Except with regard to the lengths to which it went in attacking the underpinnings of segregation, its conclusion came as no surprise. Then vice chancellor, he earlier had put his judicial career in jeopardy by ruling that the University of Delaware had to accept black applicants who otherwise would be denied an equal college education in the state. In later years Seitz publicly acknowledged personal views in support of racial justice and credited Redding, a black Wilmington-based lawyer, with providing, though the manner in which he presented the Claymont and Hockessin cases, the opportunity to advance those feelings as a matter of law.

But the case was far from over.

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