Cora Selby’s perspective on the world began to take shape 90 years ago in an area of rural Sussex County that has changed in small ways throughout the decades.
“I was born in Belltown in 1920,” says Selby, who now lives in Laurel. In 1929, she says her father bought a farm in the Rabbit’s Ferry area, and the family moved there. She worked on the farm, mostly picking cucumbers.
“I was always the last one in the row because I was slow. But I picked every cucumber,” she says. She is the oldest of four girls in the family, which included Agnes, Delores and Hilda. She says Agnes died in 1999.
Selby says she was one of the first black students to attend University of Delaware summer school and stay on campus. “I also took extension courses that were given around the state. I made good grades; that was encouraging,” she says.
“I’ve always loved to study. I got my Gold Guard pin from the University of Delaware this past year. I’ve had my master’s degree in elementary education for 50 years,” she says.
After graduating, she took her first teaching position at the Ross Point-215C School in rural Laurel. “I got my job as a substitute. The lady there wanted to get married, and at the time they did not want married teachers in the district. I taught there for 22 years,” says Selby.
She said not long after she started, the Ross Point School began to be known as parents became involved in their children’s education. “Some of our projects were taken to other schools to share. It was my life. I gave it all I had. We went on trips. We tried everything. I was young, you see,” says Selby.
“When I first came to Ross Point I taught school on some Saturdays so we could get out earlier and the children could pick strawberries. “A half-day on Saturday counted for a whole day,” she said. That meant the school year would end in May.
She says some of the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students she taught were bigger than she was. “I only weighed 104 pounds. But I believed in teaching.”
After school desegregation, Selby was moved to North Laurel Elementary School where she taught second grade. She later became faculty advisor at North Laurel and West Laurel Elementary schools.
Selby also taught the children of migrant workers who would come to Sussex County seasonally. “It was my job to identify them and make a teaching program for them,” she said.
She’s also occasionally been a mentor for students who needed to focus in a particular area, especially reading. “You have to make reading interesting. Do what you can using visual aids,” she says.
Selby was also active in the civil rights movement.
“I guess being single I was able to mix with the people. They knew me not only as a teacher but also as a friend. I wrote obituaries for them, and I was also working in the church,” she says.
Selby’s lifetime of accomplishments as an educator, civil rights leader, advocate and loved family member of the Norwood and Selby families was recognized April 16 at celebration brunch at Delaware Tech in Georgetown.
“I love people, and for some reason I have usually become the leader of whatever group I’m in. I don’t know why,” Selby says.
She’s been president of the Sussex County Teachers before and after integration of Delaware schools, and she still serves as president of the Laurel Senior Center and Carvel Gardens Housing. But she says because of her age, she won’t be taking on any new leadership positions.
“I’ve enjoyed life. I tell people to just let me, be me. You know how some people put on airs? I’m just like I am.”