Plans to give a former segregated school in Hockessin new life as a center for diversity and inclusion took a step forward Monday.
New Castle County has agreed to partner with a group of business leaders and private citizens to bring life back to Hockessin Colored School #107, which played a role in a groundbreaking court case that became part of Brown v. Board of Education.
The Friends of Hockessin Colored School #107 have envisioned a new future for the school since they saved it from sheriff’s sale eight years ago. A student at the school was a plaintiff in the 1952 court case Belton (Bulah) v. Gebhart that was appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
90-year-old Sonny Knott, who attended #107 in the late 1930s, described his experience at an agreement signing event Monday. He remembers getting second-hand supplies from the nearby white school.
“When you read from those books, you might get to page five and time to go to page six, you didn’t have it,” he said. “Because we never got new books. We got the old book from the white school up on the hill.”
Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz, Jr., whose father decided the Belton v. Gebhart case in Delaware’s Chancery Court in 1952, emphasized its significance.
“Mrs. Bulah had no plan to desegregate the school system in Delaware,” he said. “She had a very practical problem: the white bus went by her house and would not pick up her daughter and take her to #107.”
Chancellor Collins Seitz, Sr., ruled in favor of Sarah Bulah and the other plaintiffs, noting a lack of equal treatment among white and Black students, but did not strike down the state’s segregation law.
New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer signed a memorandum of understanding with the nonprofit Friends of Hockessin Colored School #107 Monday, under which the County will pay $172,000 for two outstanding mortgages on the school property, maintain the property and pay 75 percent of operating costs such as utilities.
Friends of Hockessin Colored School will handle renovations and programming. The group, along with the Trust for Public Lands, plans to raise over a million dollars for the school’s operating and capital budgets.
They hope to refine the programming plan through public engagement.
Temple University professor David Wilk heads the board of Friends of Hockessin Colored School. He says the plan is to turn the old school into a diversity training center focused on inclusion and equity.
“How do we make this place into a center of human capital optimization and community rebuilding—teaching communities how to create inclusive economic development and the ability to recognize everyone’s contribution and value,” said Wilk.
Blanche Tucker is a former student at the school. She says she would like to see it provide resources for seniors and children.
“I would like to see it restored,” she said. “I would like to see our grandchildren and great-grandchildren learn to appreciate this building, because they only know it as it is now. And it was a beautiful place. We had a playground. We had a little baseball team.”
Members of Delaware’s Congressional delegation also plan to nominate the site for a grant through a National Park Service program to preserve civil rights history.
Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester said she felt bittersweet emotions during the agreement signing event.
“We cannot forget where we’ve come from, but it also has to motivate us to do more,” she said. “It has to motivate us to say, what are the conditions that children of color are facing today? Are we equal now?”
Blunt Rochester urged those attending the event, particularly the young people, to create “good trouble” tackling the inequalities that persist across the country and in Delaware.