National Park

Why a historic Delaware school is now part of the national park system

There’s a small red brick building tucked away in a corner of Hockessin that was at the heart of a case that shaped the history of the United States.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden assured that this building would be protected forever, signing legislation to incorporate the colorful Hockessin School #107 into the national park system and recognize the role schools like this play in the system. education today.

Five cases known collectively as Brown v. Board of Education were argued in the United States Supreme Court in 1954. One of these five cases was brought by Sarah Bulah of Delaware. At the time, a Delaware school bus carrying white children drove past Bulah’s house and did not stop to pick up Bulah’s daughter, Shirley, to transport her to the small red brick building in Hockessin. – also known as Hockessin School 107C. (The C stands for “colored”.)

Bulah sued Delaware’s first black attorney, Louis L. Redding, who combined his case with another brought by black parents in Claymont seeking to challenge segregation laws that forced their children to attend Howard High. School in Wilmington, the only state in the state. high school for black students.

In 1952, the Delaware Court of Chancery sided with the parents.

Although the ruling only applies to litigants in those two cases, the State Board of Education appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. There, the two Delaware cases were combined to form Belton (Bulah) v. Gebhart, then consolidated with other cases brought by the NAACP to create what is now known as Brown v. Board of Education.

As the landmark 1954 ruling and subsequent racial desegregation efforts dismantled the national racial segregation society codified by Plessy v. Ferguson, Hockessin Colored School #107 ceased to operate as a school.

It later became a community center, but in 2008 it was abandoned.

Attempts to renovate the building led to a legal dispute, and the building was the subject of a sheriff’s sale. His disappearance was announced after Friends of Hockessin Colored School #107 Inc., benefactors and the Delaware Community Foundation provided financial assistance to settle the lawsuit. Friends of Colored School Hockessin #107 Inc. now owns the property.

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Document listing school segregation cases to be heard by the United States Supreme Court

In 2020, New Castle County announced it would pay off both mortgages on the property and partner with Friends of Hockessin #107 School of Color to preserve the school as a “center of diversity, inclusion and social equity”.

With President Biden’s signature, School 107C, along with Howard High School and the former Claymont High School, are “eligible for technical and financial assistance” from the National Parks System and are to “be operated in accordance with the laws generally applicable” to the sites the entity governs.

James “Sonny” Knott, an alumnus of Hockessin Colored School #107 in grades two through six, attended the signing of the bill last week at the White House.

“I really don’t have the words to describe how my heart feels at the thought of a school being listed on the national register,” said Knott, now a board member of the color school Friends of Hockcraft #107. The school is very, very dear to us, the older students who went there.”

107 former students of Hockessin School attend the signing of the law designating the school as part of the national park system

The 92-year-old said he wants to continue bringing his great-great-grandchildren to school and telling them what it takes to ensure students like him get an education. Knott also volunteers at Delcastle Technical High School and hopes to bring this history to today’s students so they appreciate the opportunities available to them.

“Some of them see [school] just like a building,” Knott said. “That’s why it’s important for us to let them know that it’s not just about walls and a roof.

In a written statement, National Park Service Director Chuck Sams called it “our solemn responsibility as custodians of America’s national treasures to tell the full, and sometimes difficult, story of our nation’s heritage for the benefit present and future generations”.

Alumni of Hockessin Colored School #107 at White House Rose Garden.  From left to right: Leroy Peterson, James "Son" Knott, Lois Johnson, Joan Anderson (Claymont student), Charlie Johnson, Robert Berry, and Blanche Tucker.

The law Biden signed also redesignates an existing historic site in Topeka, Kansas, as the Brown v. Board of Education, while also adding South Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia as affiliated areas of the national park system.

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“The inclusion of these significant sites will provide the public with a better understanding of the events leading up to the landmark 1954 United States Supreme Court decision in Brown et. al v. Board of Education,” said Sams.

The two Delaware cases and four other cases were already pending in the United States Supreme Court when the original Topeka case was included.

For more on this story, visit the National Park Service page, Belton (Bulah) c. Gebhart.

Contact reporter Anitra Johnson with advice at [email protected] or 302-379-5786