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Saving history to share history

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Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, Delaware, has a rich and important history. For nearly a century after the Civil War it was the only secondary school open to African Americans in the state. The school also played a role in the 1954 Brown versus the Board of Education case that led to the desegregation of public schools across the country.

Recently, graduate students in the University of Delaware's Museum Studies and Public Engagement Program spent two weeks working with staff and volunteers from the school's Alumni Association to catalog and house a large collection of school records and memorabilia, along with a remarkable group of books, notes and newspaper clippings from Pauline A. Young, the school's long-time librarian and a leading civil rights advocate from the 1930s until her death in 1991.

The materials included everything from a rare early commercial recording by the Fiske Jubilee Singers and signed footballs and basketballs representing Howard High's 1930s championship-winning teams to correspondence and books inscribed with notes reflecting Ms. Young's connections to W.E.B. Dubois, Paul Robeson and other African American leaders. ​

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The project was the program's annual Collections Aid service project, which deploys a team of graduate students trained in collections and archival management to assist a community organization in preserving materials of importance to that organization's history and the histories of the communities it serves. Recent partners have included St. John AM Church in Newark, the Wilmington Metropolitan Urban League and the Christina Cultural Arts Center.

“It's our program's mission to serve communities beyond campus by preserving their stories and amplifying their voices," said Ken Cohen, director of the Museum Studies and Public Engagement program. “We train our students in how to do that, from learning about what a community wants, to how to maximize storage space, to the cataloguing language they use and even digitization, so they can go on to make a difference wherever they go after their time at UD. Collections Aid is a huge part of that training because it is intensive and shows what you can accomplish in a short time if you partner and plan well." ​

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“I really enjoyed seeing members of Howard's Alumni Association, my friends, and my colleagues together in one space, rehousing this material after a year of planning. Learning how to plan a project like this has been amazing. I feel like I am better equipped to do more work like this in the future," said Melissa Benbow, a doctoral student in the African American Public Humanities Initiative, who worked with Cohen to organize the project.​

Howard High teachers and students will begin using the collections this year, and plans are being developed to make it accessible to those beyond the school.

“It is has always been our hope to make this material available to a much broader audience; students, scholars as well as the general public. This project has brought us much closer to realizing that dream," said Gary Hutt, Howard High School Alumni Association president. ​

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​Article by CAS Communications Staff

Published April 15, 2023

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Graduate students in the Museum Studies and Public Engagement Program help catalog and house a large collection of Howard High School of Technology records and memorabilia.
 
 
4/15/2023
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