"I'm very happy to announce that, today, I, along with Senator [Chris] Coons [have introduced] legislation to honor and commemorate the historic sites that contributed to the 1954 Brown versus Board of Education case that all of us know as the Browns case," said U.S. House of Representatives Majority Whip James Clyburn Thursday. "Many people don't know that the Browns case was one of five cases that went to the Supreme Court; all got lumped into one [case]."
The congressional leaders introduced Thursday, September 17, 2020, new legislation that would expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to include National Park Affiliated Areas in other states, including Delaware. Several locations in Delaware and two specific cases played an important role in the outcome of the landmark educational equality lawsuit.
"I grew up in a small town in Delaware called Hockessin. There was, about a quarter mile from my home, a former so-called 'colored school,' Hockessin School #7," Coons said. "I'm so excited for this bill...because it is a way for us to expand the circle of what sites are preserved, what history we can teach, and as a result, what progress we can make."
There were two specific cases that contributed to the success of Brown v. Board of Education in Delaware that spanned across the northern part of the state: Belton v. Gebhart--"which involved the desegregation of the Claymont High School," Coons said--and Bulah v. Gephart--"which, frankly, was the advocacy of a mom for her daughter."
"Her first contact with lawyer [Louis L. Redding Jr.], one of Delaware's greatest attorneys, she reached out to him and said, 'The bus going by our home to take kids in Hockessin to the white school, why can't they just stop it and pick up my daughter and make it possible for her to go more easily to the so-called 'colored school.'"
Redding took up the fight, but not just to get one girl on a bus. He decided, instead, to fight to get that girl into a better school. That fight led all the way to the steps of the supreme court.
"Those two cases, which were combined, were later included in Brown v. Board of Education," Coons said. "Of the five cases that were brought up to the U.S. Supreme Court, it was these cases from Delaware that were actually affirmed...If we don't save these historic facilities, the schools in which these struggles happened, and if we don't teach, we won't know our history, and we won't make progress going forward."
Assisting with the efforts is the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a nonprofit organization that works to save America's historic sites. Chief Preservation Officer Katherine Malone France says we need to preserve the places that "tell us the truth about ourselves."
"One important example of African American achievement and activism is the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. the Board of Education, which ordered the desegregation of American public schools, and to overturn the doctrine of 'separate-but-equal.'" she said. "For many people, though, Brown v. the Board of Education is associated...with a single building in a single community, the Monroe School in Topeka, Kansas, now administered by the National Park Service as a national Historic Site. However, the full story is that Brown v. Board of Education was actually a portfolio...of courageous legal challenges from six other communities: Claymont, Delaware; Hockessin, Delaware; Wilmington, Delaware; Summerton, South Carolina; Farmville, Virginia; and the District of Columbia."
And officials said this is just the beginning.
"We need people around this country to join us in advocating for [the legislation's] passage," said Leslie Canaan, senior field officer of the Natinal Trust for Historic Preservation. "Help us recognize the sights in Summerton, South Carolina, where black students were denied access to equal schools, facilities, and to school buses. Help us recognize the site in Farmville, Virginia, where the Prince Edward County border supervisor closed their schools for five years rather than integrate, denying an education to a generation of students. Help us recognize the sites in Delaware, which include the only case at the state level to be decided in favor of the plaintiffs. Help us recognize the site in Washington, D.C., were the decision in this case held the federal government to the same standards of non-discrimination as the states."