Historian Syl Woolford presented a lecture at Lewes Historical Society Feb. 15 about the building of the DuPont schools, the experience of the students who attended them, and the process of closing these schools after the Brown v. Board of Education decision. As Delaware’s first secretary of education, P.S. du Pont gave $6 million of his own money for the original 85 schools built between 1920 and 1930, and asked that the state pay the teachers and buy the books. Today the schools would cost more than $800 million.
The schools are of interest, not only for the philanthropic nature of P.S. du Pont, but also for the strong community bonds built by those who attended them. Desegregation caused the demise of the schools, but the bonds among the people who went there are still strong today. Some schools have been repurposed as museums and community centers, while others have been demolished or have fallen into disrepair.
Originally there was one school in the state for black students in ninth grade and above, and that was in Wilmington. In the 1950s, a school in each county was built for the upper grades. Howard High School was the state-of-the-art school, at a cost of $1 million, and an auditorium for 500 people was built in the center of the school for gatherings. The Sussex County school was William C. Jason Comprehensive High School. For those who attended these schools, the good memories remain strong.
To read more about the DuPont schools, go to In Delaware, school segregation persisted until 1967.