Separate Is Not Equal - Brown v. Board of Education

Smithsonian National Museum of American History Behring Center

Segregated America
The Battleground
Legal Campaign
Five Communities Change a Nation
  • Clarendon County, SC
  • Topeka, Kansas
  • Farmville, Virginia
  • New Castle County, DE
  • Washington, DC
The Decision

Delaware: Conflict in a Border State

Bulah v. Gebhart and Belton v. Gebhart

When the Civil War began, Delaware and other border states permitted slavery but refused to join the Confederacy. Issues of race in Delaware reflected this mixed heritage, and both white and black people had misgivings about school desegregation. Yet, laws on segregation followed the state’s southern traditions.

A small group of African American parents, upset when their children had to bypass white schools to reach black ones, sought to challenge state-enforced segregation. Two cases from Delaware ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court as part of Brown v. Board of Education.

Bulah v. Gebhart and Belton v. Gebhart Legal Case Summary
Place: Wilmington County, Delaware
Grievance: Segregated schools far from the homes and neighborhoods of African American children
Plaintiffs: Two mothers of children in the county schools, Sarah Bulah and Ethel Belton, and seven other parents in the community
Decision: A state court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. An appeal to the state supreme court and the U.S. Supreme Court followed.

Downtown Wilmington in the 1950s

Downtown Wilmington in the 1950s

(Courtesy of Historical Society of Delaware)
Back to top
Continue to Delaware (page 2)