At the time of the Brown v. Board decision in 1954, Delaware was one of 17 states with mandatory school segregation. While many other southern school districts waited for the United States Supreme Court to issue its implementation decision on Brown v. Board of Education, Milford moved ahead with desegregating its high school. This led to the first volatile reaction to the Brown decision in the United States. Milford’s decision to admit eleven black tenth grade students for the Fall 1954 semester raised concerns in the community among anti-segregationists and also garnered national attention. The Milford School District closed schools in response to the backlash and most of the school board members resigned.
On September 26 (the day before schools were set to re-open), Bryant Bowles, the founder of the National Association for the Advancement of White People, organized a rally at the Harrington Airport. At the rally, he and his fellow speakers implored the thousands of people in attendance that they should boycott the schools as long as they were desegregated. Lawyer Louis Redding feared unrest from angry citizens upon the school reopening and in a telegram he asked Governor Boggs to provide police protection for the eleven black students. 70 percent of white students failed to attend school on Monday, September 27.
A few days later, a new school board formed and, working with Governor Boggs, came to a verdict regarding the attendance of the black students at Milford High School. Their decision was that the eleven black students should be removed from enrollment at Milford High School effective 3:10 PM on September 30, 1954. The students were given the option of enrolling at William C. Jason High in Georgetown or at William Henry High in Dover.
The Milford High School boycott ended on October 1 and segregation was back in place in Milford. Throughout the state and the nation, segregation and Milford became synonymous. Life, Time, Newsweek, and Redbook were among the magazines that covered the events as they unfolded. It wasn’t until 1965, eleven years after the first attempt, that Milford finally achieved school integration.
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