Howard High School Alumni Interviews, Wilmington, Delaware
Howard High School, the only free high school for African Americans in Delaware until the 1950s, was built shortly after the Civil War. In this clip, interviewees describe the obstacles former students faced, such as traveling long distances each day on foot or by milk train. A man and a woman also describe their classes in practical and vocational studies. The man built an elaborately finished wooden desk and chair as a boy, and the woman recalls dressmaking classes in which the students sewed prom and graduation gowns to the teacher's exacting standards. These classes were important at a time when few avenues to college were available.
Pierre S. du Pont, President of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. and General Motors in the 1920s, spearheaded modernization of the education system for African Americans in Delaware. Du Pont drew attention to the problem of inadequate education by funding school surveys, supporting reform legislation, and ultimately by donating over $6 million of his own money to build new, state-of-the-art schools. His efforts, however, could not solve the systemic problems of discrimination and segregation. To attend school after 8th grade, African American students often had to travel long distances as they were not admitted into the white schools that were close to their homes. Alumni recall, for example, that parents had to pay transportation costs for the first three months of school, after which the state paid for the rest. For parents in rural areas, this barrier was often too high. Since Howard High School was over 100 miles from communities in southern Delaware, transportation problems prevented many from attending. A few communities purchased school buses, ferrying students in the early morning hours.
A Separate Place: the Schools P.S. Du Pont Built DVD (Wilmington, DE: Hagley Museum and Library, 2003): 12:43 to 14:55. Copies available from the Hagley Museum and Library or 302-658-2400. See also A Separate Place teaching packet and A Brief History of Howard.