Delaware State University breaks ground to honor Holland

From right, Longtime Delaware State University alumni supporter Dr. Reba R. Hollingsworth; provost and vice president for Academic Affairs Dr. Alton Thompson; DSU alumni and co-chair of the Holland committee Don Blakey; DSU president Dr. Harry L. Williams; J. Caleb ‘J.C.’ Boggs III, grandson of Gov. Caleb Boggs, and Vita Pickrum, vice president of institutional advancement and committee co-chair, break ground Friday at the site of the future Dr. Jerome Holland statue.  (Delaware State News photos/Dave Chambers)

From right, Longtime Delaware State University alumni supporter Dr. Reba R. Hollingsworth; provost and vice president for Academic Affairs Dr. Alton Thompson; DSU alumni and co-chair of the Holland committee Don Blakey; DSU president Dr. Harry L. Williams; J. Caleb ‘J.C.’ Boggs III, grandson of Gov. Caleb Boggs, and Vita Pickrum, vice president of institutional advancement and committee co-chair, break ground Friday at the site of the future Dr. Jerome Holland statue. (Delaware State News photos/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — Dr. Jerome Holland might well be considered the indispensable man in the history of Delaware State University.

When he arrived in Dover in 1953 to take the helm of what was then Delaware State College, the institution was adrift in turbulent waters.

The Middle States Commission of Higher Education had revoked the college’s accreditation in 1949. The institution that had been established in 1891 to give blacks access to higher education was on the verge of sinking after 62 years of struggling to raise standards, build academic programs and grow a college where a plantation once had existed.

Jerome Holland

Jerome Holland

“I like to compare (Delaware State at that time) as a ship that has lots of possibilities, but is floundering on the edge of a waterfall,” said Don Blakey Thursday. He’s an alumnus, former instructor, coach and now co-chairman of the Dr. Jerome Holland Statue Committee.

“Dr. Holland, through his force of personality, his drive, turned the ship around.”

As the institution’s sixth president, he not only turned the ship around, but set it on a course that steered it to where it is today, “this wonderful university in the center of Delaware,” said Carlos Holmes, director of news services in the university’s public relations’ department.

Now, the university wants to honor the man whom Mr. Holmes calls its “most pivotal president” with a statue so today’s students will be reminded daily of Dr. Holland’s importance in making it possible for them to take advantage of all that Delaware State University now offers.

On Friday afternoon, current president Dr. Harry L. Williams welcomed alumni, students and guests to celebrate the breaking of ground outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center. The statue project was launched in February with a committee formed and the first donations given.

The search for a sculptor continues, but Mr. Holmes hopes to have one lined up by the end of the year.

DSU president Dr. Harry Williams said the university’s sixth president, Dr. Jerome Holland, “saved the university” and his statue shall watch over all the students of the campus.

DSU president Dr. Harry Williams said the university’s sixth president, Dr. Jerome Holland, “saved the university” and his statue shall watch over all the students of the campus.

Mr. Blakey, along with his wife, Delores, kicked off fundraising efforts with a $5,000 donation, according to a university news release in February. He and Vita Pickrum, newly promoted vice president of the Division of Institutional Advancement, were named co-chairpersons of the Dr. Jerome Holland Statue Committee.

“We need to raise at least a half million dollars,” he said, “because we want to erect a statue like the one of Booker T. Washington at Hampton University.

“It’s an arduous process, an expensive process. We’re taking it step by step.”

The objective is worth the labor, though.

“It’s critical because Dr. Holland is not known to many people (now). We need to acquaint and reacquaint people with Dr. Holland,” Mr. Blakey said.

College at crossroads

Born in Auburn, New York, in 1916, Dr. Holland arrived in Dover during Delaware State University’s “darkest period of history,” Mr. Holmes said.

Not only had the institution lost its hard-won accreditation in 1949 but the 1950s also was a time of societal upheaval as the fight against segregation of the black and white races intensified.

Under particular scrutiny was the prevailing “separate but equal” policy that separate schools for blacks and whites were legal if they provided equal opportunity. Once the University of Delaware in Newark was ordered to admit blacks after losing the 1950 Parker v University of Delaware lawsuit, the need for the college in Dover — established under the Morrill Act of 1890 — as a black institution was seen by some as “superfluous,” said Mr. Holmes, who often gives presentations on Delaware State University’s history.

HOLLAND BIOGRAPHY • Jerome Holland was born Jan. 9, 1916, in Auburn, New York. He was the first black to play football at Cornell University in 1939 and was a two-time All-American end. He earned a bachelor of science and master of science degrees in sociology at Cornell, and his doctorate in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1950. • He became president of Delaware State College (now University) in 1953, leaving in 1960 to become president of then-Hampton Institute. • He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1965. • He was ambassador to Sweden from 1970 to 1972. • In 1972 he became the first black to sit on the board of the New York Stock Exchange, a seat he held until 1980. • He served as a board member of nine major U.S. companies, including AT&T and General Motors. • He was chairman of the American Red Cross from 1980 to 1985, which named its blood laboratory after him. • Dr. Holland died in New York City on Jan. 13, 1985.  Holland Statue Project For more information about the Dr. Jerome Holland Statue Project or to donate online, go to www.desu.edu/development/jerome-holland-commemorative-statue. Or call the Office of Development at (302) 857-6055; email dsufoundation@desu.edu.

HOLLAND BIOGRAPHY
• Jerome Holland was born Jan. 9, 1916, in Auburn, New York. He was the first black to play football at Cornell University in 1939 and was a two-time All-American end. He earned a bachelor of science and master of science degrees in sociology at Cornell, and his doctorate in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1950.
• He became president of Delaware State College (now University) in 1953, leaving in 1960 to become president of then-Hampton Institute.
• He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1965.
• He was ambassador to Sweden from 1970 to 1972.
• In 1972 he became the first black to sit on the board of the New York Stock Exchange, a seat he held until 1980.
• He served as a board member of nine major U.S. companies, including AT&T and General Motors.
• He was chairman of the American Red Cross from 1980 to 1985, which named its blood laboratory after him.
• Dr. Holland died in New York City on Jan. 13, 1985.
Holland Statue Project
For more information about the Dr. Jerome Holland Statue Project or to donate online, go to www.desu.edu/development/jerome-holland-commemorative-statue. Or call the Office of Development at (302) 857-6055; email dsufoundation@desu.edu.

One elected official, however, took a different view. Gov. J. Caleb Boggs, a Republican who took office in January 1953, met Dr. Holland at a dinner in Wilmington, according to Mr. Holmes.

Dr. Holland at the time was working as a social research consultant for the Pew Memorial Foundation in Philadelphia.

“They had a nice conversation about Delaware State College,” Mr. Holmes said Thursday, and Gov. Boggs decided Dr. Holland was the “solution for Delaware State” and could get the college in the heart of the state going in the right direction. Gov. Boggs, perhaps not inconsequently, was a Kent County native.

Both Mr. Holmes and Mr. Blakey were quick to give credit to Gov. Boggs, who recruited and then supported Dr. Holland. Mr. Blakey also said James Hardcastle, alumni president and principal at what was then William Henry High School in Dover, pushed to keep Delaware State College open.

“Here’s why we consider Gov. Boggs so important: Some in power were indifferent” to the problems at Delaware State, Mr. Holmes said. “We could have had a governor who didn’t give a damn. We could have closed. But we had a governor who believed in opportunity for all.”

He also was a realist, Mr. Holmes said, and recognized that despite the law ordering the University of Delaware to desegregate, the institution likely would do so reluctantly.

That reluctance allowed Gov. Boggs to push additional funding to Delaware State, seen as an alternative to the University of Delaware for those wanting higher education.

“If not for the leadership of Gov. Boggs and the critical leadership of Dr. Holland, this university wouldn’t be here in this form,” Mr. Holmes said.

“He gave the school new life, a direction from that point on, to where we are today,” said Mr. Blakey.

“He proved wrong the many people, the doubting Thomases, who said the school wouldn’t survive, shouldn’t survive.”

Not only did it survive, Mr. Blakey said, “it thrives.”

The turnaround

Dr. Holland set about cleaning up the college’s previously mismanaged business department and securing funding for academic programs and overdue building projects.

He also envisioned a different kind of expansion for the historic black college, according to Delaware State University’s website on him. He recognized that the college in central Delaware could fill the vacuum for white students wanting more than a high school diploma but who were unable to attend the university in northern Delaware.

Gov. J. Caleb Boggs recruited Dr. Jerome Holland to take on the presidency of what was then Delaware State College in 1953. (Submitted photo/Delaware State University)

Gov. J. Caleb Boggs recruited Dr. Jerome Holland to take on the presidency of what was then Delaware State College in 1953. (Submitted photo/Delaware State University)

“There is no reason why Delaware State cannot serve all citizens; they pay for it,” Dr. Holland said in a 1953 interview with the Delaware State News, the website recounts. “We will do everything possible to secure an accredited standing, and the guiding philosophy will be for a state education institution.”

Within a few short years the institution was back on course. It regained its accreditation in 1957. Enrollment, which had been 167 students in 1953, more than doubled by the end of the decade. In 2014, 61 years later, enrollment was a record 4,644.

But many of those thousands of students don’t know Dr. Holland.

“We want to revive his memory and have it live on,” Mr. Blakey said. He is determined to impress upon the current generation the importance of Dr. Holland’s “steadfastness.”

It’s a cause close to his heart: He knew Dr. Holland.

“He was a brilliant man,” said Mr. Blakey, who graduated from Delaware State College in 1958 and went on to earn his master’s degree at the University of Maryland.

Dr. Holland hired him in 1959 to work in the college’s public relations department.

Dr. Holland left Delaware State College in 1960, recruited to be president of Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, in Virginia. But before he left he appointed Mr. Blakey to the physical education department and made him coach of the baseball team.

Fifty-five years later he has embraced the “monumental task for a small committee to honor a person who has made an institution on the verge of closing into a prominent institute not only in the state, but in the nation,” he said.

For his part, Mr. Holmes often speculates on what would have happened to Delaware State without Dr. Holland’s leadership. Without his guidance, what would have filled the fields of the old Loockerman Plantation, he asks himself. And what would have happened to the “thousands upon thousands upon thousands of lives who have been impacted by him?“ Mr. Holmes asked.

“Dr. Holland is not just Delaware State University history,” he said. “He’s Delaware’s history.”

For more information about the Dr. Jerome Holland Statue Project or to donate online, go to www.desu.edu/development/jerome-holland-commemorative-statue. Or call the Office of Development at (302) 857-6055; email dsufoundation@desu.edu.

DSU President Dr. Harry Williams, left, presents J.C. Boggs III with a framed photo of his grandfather Gov. Caleb Boggs with then college president Dr. Jerome Holland at the groundbreaking Friday.

DSU President Dr. Harry Williams, left, presents J.C. Boggs III with a framed photo of his grandfather Gov. Caleb Boggs with then college president Dr. Jerome Holland at the groundbreaking Friday.

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