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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: Memories of Former Iron Hill School Students

The program to provide every African-American school district in Delaware with a modern building using du Pont funds was completed in 1928. On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. The Board of Education ended racial segregation. The integration process was slow in Delaware and desegregation in public schools was not completed until the State Board of Education adopted a resolution in February 1965. The resolution called for the dissolution of some African-American schools, including Iron Hill, by September 1965.

Pierre du Pont's contribution to the improvement of African-American education in Delaware was warmly acknowledged through hundreds of letters from students and teachers across the state. Following are excerpts from oral history interviews conducted in 1995 with former Iron Hill School students:

Iron Hill School's Progressive Elements

I thought it was just wonderful, beautiful. I think I had...gratitude towards Mr. du Pont beyond the architecture. The thought that he would build black people such a building....There's always a soft spot in my heart for the du Pont family, the good that they have done, and Pierre S. du Pont was the one....I just was elated at the building, but I think I was always thinking of how wonderful it was that he gave it to us.
--Dorothy Copper

There were lights and we had shades to the windows....It was always clean, the building was always clean, bright, and cheerful....I never remember having trouble seeing because the shades were adjustable. On cloudy days maybe they were all the way up so you would have more light.
--Rebecca Freeman

I can remember what I would call a pot belly stove, a big furnace, used for heating and also used sometimes for heating our hot lunches....The stove was cast iron.... We had to be awfully careful going up and putting the pots we were going to cook on top of the stove....It would be awful cold, and when it got cold out it would take a lot of coal to heat this building....The coldest part was over there by the windows because these windows used to push out. The big kids would be over there and the smaller kids would be next to the fire.
--Reverend Allen O. Smith

I think, when I first began, I remember the stove. As time went on it seems like there was a heater there....I don't know that it worked all the time, but there was, I believe, a heater there, a furnace....We also sometimes prepared special meals there. The teacher would let the older children themselves prepare meals there, a pot of soup or something someone had sent in for us to have a hot meal for the day....It was a big pot belly stove--it got really hot, but you could set a pot on the top.
--Rebecca Freeman

Structure and Activities of the Day
Our teacher would have a bell, she was right there on the steps, and would ring the bell, and we all would come in and we would go to our respective areas. Then we would have a song...and we sang, oh, something appropriate.... And then we would have the scripture. The scripture would be read and then we would pledge allegiance to the flag, and then our teacher would give us our prayer, she would pray for us today, and then...our classes would begin....
--Reverend Allen O. Smith

I wonder how she did it. Looking back, I really do. I remember her taking time with each class. As I remember, she got the younger children started on a project, maybe painting or going over our ABCs or our numbers. Then she would go on to the next class and get them started. We were all kind of getting started and busy. Then she went to the older children. She spent maybe a little more time with them because their lessons were a little more complicated. Then she would come back to us. But we knew that her eyes were on us and we kept busy. By the time she came back we tried to have our work done, at least I did....And that's how I remember her accomplishing her teaching.
--Rebecca Freeman

We had different days. We had a musical period. In fact we had flutes. We were supplied flutes by the State Board of Education. And we had music sessions, would take lessons on maybe a Monday or Wednesday. And then we had an art class. We had to do an art drawing and all that, and we didn't have gym because we did it out on the playground. Our gym class, what we call gym now, would be held on the playground.
--Reverend Allen O. Smith

We used to have...[what] we called May Day....Three schools who used to come together...for a day of fun playing and we had competition. We had teams, some would be on the blue team and some on the red team. We had different contests, like volley ball, dodge ball, fifty-yard dash, and ...a bag race.... We had different sorts of activities...and our parents would make homemade ice cream and cake and have hot dogs or hamburgers, whatever. We used to look forward for that day.
--Reverend Allen O. Smith

I remember her [the teacher] playing the piano. I remember her also being very firm. She had a yardstick (laughter). We all tried to avoid that, but sometimes, we didn't. She was very loving...almost like a mother type....I remember her having beautiful handwriting, it was beautiful, very distinct.
--Rebecca Freeman

At the end of school we had a program. Each child, if they wanted to participate, they could, in some kind of talent, maybe singing, reciting poetry, reading something that they liked. I remember the desks being pushed back to the walls, and the front of the school being decorated with all kinds of honeysuckles and roses....They were used as props at the front of the school, draped over the piano, the blackboard, and in the corners. Each child would be given a special recognition for something they had done during the year, maybe in art, that was really emphasized, or someone with beautiful handwriting, or someone talented in reading poetry....I think it was a wonderful experience for me in that we were free to express ourselves during this talent time. And I was a very quiet child so I kind of had to be encouraged and she encouraged everyone to try to do what you thought you could do, and I think that helped a lot.
--Rebecca Freeman

1. Were the progressive features of Iron Hill School successful? How can you tell?

2. Reverend Allen O. Smith and Rebecca Freeman both attended the Iron Hill School, although they were there at different times. Based on the excerpts from their interviews, who do you think might have been a student there first? Explain your answer.

3. Like most rural schools of the time, one teacher was expected to teach six grades in one room. Based on the excerpts, how did teachers appear to manage this task?

4. What did you learn from the oral histories that you did not learn from the writings of du Pont and Betelle? What kinds of things did the former students recall? Whose perspective of the school is missing? Why might this be the case?

 

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