New Castle County is helping to preserve a Hockessin building that played a key role in the Brown v. Board of Education decision that helped desegregate schools in America.
New Castle County Council passed, and County Executive Matt Meyer said he will sign, a bill authorizing the county to help pay off the mortgage of the Hockessin Colored School No. 107, currently owned by Friends of the Hockessin Colored School No. 107 [FOHCS].
FOHCS currently has a $172,000 mortgage on the property, and with the agreement, New Castle County will pay 75% of the maintenance and upkeep, with FOHCS paying the other 25%. FOHCS is expected to raise $1.5 million to help ensure the future operation.
Chairman of the FOHCS Board David Wilk told County Council about its importance in helping to desegregate schools nationwide.
"It is one of five schools and cases that were rolled up into Brown v. Board of Education 65 years ago, and this was the site of Shirley Bulah, who became a Supreme Court case with Louis Redding and former Chancellor Collins J. Seitz."
The Hockessin School's case, Gebhart v. Belton (1952), was the only case where the lower court sided with the plaintiffs, setting the critical precedent that was used in Brown.
The former school building still stands at 4266 Mill Creek Road, and Wilk said the FOHCS Board, which includes Delaware State University President Dr. Tony Allen, has big plans for expansion, including restarting its educational role.
"A center for diversity, inclusion, and social equity, where we were train people and work public and private schools, people from the workplace, health care systems, non-profits, college and universities, [and others] on creating programming at the school that will advance the idea of creating equal access and equal justice for everyone in the community."
Those programs would be the responsibility of FOHCS through a long-term lease to run the facility, and they would also be responsible for the expansion costs.
The school is also aiming to be part of a proposed Sarah/Shirley Bulah Heritage Trail.
That trail would start at Tweeds Tavern Park near the area of Sarah Bulah's produce stand, which was the starting point of daughter Shirley's trek to the Hockessin Colored School. The fight to get Shirley a seat on a white school bus to keep her from having to walk several miles each day that sparked the Gebhart case.
From Tweeds Tavern Park, the trail would use existing paths on Valley Road and Evanson Road, but a connector would be needed either using Grant Avenue, or a more direct path through the woods, to get to Millcreek Road.
Dick Christopher, who is on the the FOHCS board, said he was inspired to help save HCS after he took a trip to Normandy.
"I looked at what the French had done to preserve so much of the artifacts of that war, and I thought this pales, maybe, in comparison, but for our area, it's a historical, significant building that needs to be preserved."
There is legislation being introduced in the U.S. House that would help preserve the buildings in Hockessin, Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia that were the core cases referenced in Brown, and bring them under the National Park Service.
Meyer has announced he will formally sign the agreement in the coming days at the site of the school.