For teacher Anna White Henry, Milton integration no biggie

May 28, 2021

At 92, Anna White Henry has to stop and think when asked questions about the past. But once that thinking opens up wellsprings in her brain, happy memories begin to flow.

Anna taught for 42 years in Milton schools. The first dozen or so of those found her in the first- through fourth-grade classroom of Milton Public School 196-C. The C stood for Colored.

“I graduated from Delaware State College in the spring of 1950. Back then it was Delaware State College for Colored Students.” 

A year and a half later in September 1951, at age 23, Anna went to work for the state as a teacher at her hometown school in Milton.

Esthelda Parker Selby, a former teacher, principal and member of Cape Henlopen School District board of education, learned reading and other elementary subjects in Anna’s classroom. When Selby saw a historic photograph of a baseball game at Milton 196-C in a recent edition of the Cape Gazette, she called and suggested a call with Anna. “I remember those days,” said Selby. “There we were with our bobby socks and black-and-white saddle shoes. She was my teacher,” said Selby. “She’ll have good stories.”

Anna said the photo, from 1952, probably showed students from Milton in a Field Day baseball competition at 196-C with students from Slaughter Neck School. The two-room Milton schoolhouse was located along Route 16 near where the Backyard Restaurant now stands. The school building is long gone, but a historical marker now provides information at the location.

“That would have been in May. All the schools held field days. Softball, baseball, dodgeball and the Maypole dance. Field Day came just before school let out for summer.” The photograph was probably made at the end of Anna’s first year.

Her first years of teaching – with 10 or 12 students at each grade level – were in segregated classrooms. Then came integration in 1965.

“We had no problems. H.O. Brittingham School was being built at the time to accommodate the extra students from the little Milton and Slaughter Neck schools that were to close,” said Anna. “A lawyer and other officials came down from Wilmington and met with us to talk about integration. We met in 196-C. They gave us an outline of how the HOB school would be built and involved us in the process. That’s history.”

Anna said Herman O. Brittingham, for whom HOB Elementary was named, was principal at the white school in Milton at the time. “He said there would be two white teachers and two Black teachers in each grade, and that’s what we had. Integrating? Everything was fine. For me it was no biggie. No problem, period.”

“Everyone knew everyone in Milton, and we all got along with each other. It was really nice; it really was. Mr. Brittingham lived right down the street from us. We were all mixed up in Milton. It was beautiful. Seeing the way things are now, all the trouble, I’m glad I grew up and taught back in those days.”

Anna said her family was the only Black family in that section of Milton. “I've been used to it all my life. The only kids we had to play with were white kids. I loved it.”

These days, Anna said, she’s enjoying retirement. “I’m 92 and being lazy.” 




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