Booker T. Washington opened in 1922

DOVER — Since the Civil War, African-American education in Delaware has been an issue championed by public and private organizations alike.

The history of black education in Delaware dates back to 1867 when an independent group of philanthropists in Wilmington formed the Delaware Association for the Moral Improvement and Education of the Colored People.

According to the Delaware Public Archives, the organization raised funds to build 15 all black schools — seven in New Castle, four in Kent and four in Sussex.

By 1875, the organization had built and was financially supporting 28 black schools without any funding from the state. By 1895, the state had started to partially fund the schools. In 1895, there were an estimated 3,400 black students in Delaware, mostly in elementary single-room, single-teacher schools.

By the late 1910s, many of the black schools had fallen into states of disrepair and a study was conducted by the Service Citizens of Delaware. When the organization learned of the disrepair and the high numbers of blacks finishing eighth grade, it decided new elementary schools and a black high school were needed.

The school was named after famed educator Booker T. Washington.

The school was named after famed educator Booker T. Washington.

Pierre S. du Pont, president of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. from 1915 to 1919, personally financed the construction of two black high schools and 86 black elementary schools. A school in Dover was one of them.

The school was named for Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856-1915), president of the Tuskegee Institute and a prominent figure in the last generation of African-American activists born into slavery.

Booker T. first opened in the fall of 1922 as an all-black school, consolidating two existing all black schools in Dover — one on Division Street and one on Slaughter Street. The new school’s student body would be more than 200 — larger than any other black school in Delaware.

The details of the first day, Nov. 13, 1922, were captured in a document written by W.B. Thornburgh who observed the days events.

He recalled the students meeting at the two original schools and marching to the new school. The first calls of order at Booker T. Washington were the raising of an American flag and taking of class photographs before the school’s now iconic three-archway entrance.

A student body meeting was called to order in the school auditorium before the students, grades one through eight at the time, were dismissed to their first day of class at their new school.


Black and white schools were considered separate but equal until 1947 when black students sought admission to the University of Delaware. At the time there was an existing black college, the State College for Colored Students (established in 1891), now Delaware State University, but it did not offer identical classes as the University of Delaware.

The black students who were both qualified to attend college and chose to pursue a major other than what was offered at the State College were granted admission to the University of Delaware. From there, civic organizations arose to fight for the integration of public schools, too.

In 1954, segregated schools were found to be unconstitutional through the Brown v. Board of Education decision and Booker T. was on its was to becoming desegregated.

Only a couple years later, schools across Delaware, including those in Capital School District became desegregated and Booker T. Washington was among the first.

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