Commentary: Oral history project will document DuPont Schools’ legacy

By Dr. Abdullah R. Muhammad

The African American Cultural Resources Task Force of Delaware (AATF) of Preservation Delaware Inc. (PDI) has received funding from the Delaware Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs to conduct an oral history project to document the experiences of both students, teachers and members of the communities associated with selected DuPont Schools in New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties. The DuPont Schools Oral History Project complements the work of the University of Delaware’s Center for Historic Architecture & Design (CHAD), which is currently engaged in surveying all DuPont Schools in Delaware.

Abdullah R. Muhammad

Six schools are included in the current phase of the project:  Howard High School and Hockessin Colored School No. 107-C in New Castle County, the Thomas D. Clayton School and Delaware State College High School in Kent County, and Rabbit’s Ferry School No. 201-C and the Richard Allen School in Sussex County. All the schools are DuPont Schools built during the early part of the 1920s. These schools were the main source for educating African Americans during the early to mid-20th century.

The AATF is now engaged in identifying individuals who were associated with those schools as either students, teachers or community residents and who may be interested in participating in the oral history project as interview subjects. In addition to memories, the AATF is seeking photographs and other memorabilia to support the project.

These oral and physical memories will be codified and documented for use by our narrators and highly respected historical repositories, such as the Delaware Historical Society’s Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage. By and large, the bulk of our collected information will be positioned for public consumption, either by displays, exhibitions, online presentations and/or public forums.

The intent of this project is twofold: first, to document the stories from the individuals who lived that history that have gone untold for too long and, second, to educate the public about myths and distorted facts told about educating African American children during the Jim Crow era.

The combined efforts of PDI’s board of directors, AATF and CHAD will document the existing school buildings, the stories that existed within the walls of those buildings, the communities in which the schools existed and the individuals associated with those schools. Completion of the first phase of this project (set for June 30) is a major step in recognizing the rich history of African American education in Delaware and its pivotal relationship to Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that “separate but equal” had no place in education.

Coincidentally, this project comes during a bipartisan congressional effort to recognize all the states from which the cases that culminated in the Petitioner Brown class proceedings are to be individually and severally recognized as National Historic Sites.

For information on this or any other preservation efforts by Preservation Delaware, visit preservationde.org. To find out how you can participate in the DuPont Schools Oral History Project, please email a.muhammad3@gmail.com.

Abdullah R. Muhammad is director of the African American Cultural Resources Task Force of Delaware, project director for the DuPont Schools Oral History Project and board member for the John Dickinson Plantation Advisory Committee. His books are available at the Delaware History Museum and on Amazon.com.