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Mary Frances Berry shares her insights on race and education during the Louis L. Redding Lecture.
In the 1954
landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court said
separate but equal education was inherently unequal. Civil rights
activist and educator Mary Frances Berry said despite this, segregation
in schools persists today.
“[The belief was] that the good white people in America would do that
right thing,” Berry said on Thursday, Oct. 25, when she spoke at the
University of Delaware’s Mitchell Hall. “If we win the lawsuit and if we
win the case in Brown, then segregation will end…. Well that didn’t
Berry shared these views during her keynote address at the annual
Louis L. Redding Lecture, which honors the late civil rights activist
and lawyer from Wilmington. Redding was part of the legal team fighting
against segregation in the Brown v. Board of Education case.
UD President Dennis Assanis shared a bit about Redding and his
Mr. Redding was the first African-American attorney admitted to the
Delaware Bar, where he served as the only non-white member for more than
two decades. In 2013, the University dedicated a new residence hall in Redding’s honor.
“The diversity that Mr. Redding helped create continues to increase
our community today,” Assanis said. “We often say that the University
was founded 275 years ago in 1743. I like to say that the inclusive
excellence pillar of UD was actually founded in 1951 [when black
students were first admitted to UD because of Redding’s lawsuit against
the University], and that’s an important statement. We are grateful for
Louis Redding’s vision and hard work.”
The University also established an endowed professorship to honor Mr. Redding, supported by generous donations from law firms, attorneys and numerous community and church groups and individuals who knew of his work in civil rights. Professor Leland Ware holds the Louis L. Redding Chair for the Study of Law and Public in the School of Public Policy and Administration.
As part of the evening, awards were presented to individuals in the community who have made a difference.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Co-winners of the 2018 Louis L. Redding Award are Ramona
Neunuebel, assistant professor of biological sciences (left), and
Camille Sims-Johnson, director of UD’s Upward Bound Math/Science
Berry, the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought
and professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, has
dedicated her life to fighting for civil rights, gender equality and
social justice. She served as the chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil
Rights from 1993 to 2004. A professor and former chancellor of the
University of Colorado Boulder (the first woman to head a major research
university), Berry has decades of experience with race and education.
She drew on these experiences to explain the challenges the U.S.
education system continues to face. She focused first on K-12 education —
the pipeline to colleges — where she said there is overemphasis on
standardized testing. She dubbed the U.S. educational system,
“standardized test score junkies.”
“Instead of testing people on what we taught them,” she said, “we test them on what we didn’t teach them.”
This obsession disproportionately affects students of color,
particularly black and Latino students, she said. As a result, many end
up left behind and never make it out of the pipeline to college. She
offered that more teachers must be willing to meet students where they
are, instead of teaching from where they are expected to be.
Due to the problems in the pipeline, the pool of college students
start off with a diversity problem, Berry said. The number of minority
students enrolled to earn degrees is a stark difference compared to the
According to the National Center for Education Statistics,
about 13 percent of black students and 18 percent of Hispanic students
were enrolled in a degree-granting institution in 2016. Those numbers
are 6.9 percent for Asian students, and less than 1 for Native
Americans. These numbers are dismal, Berry said.
She noted that the institutional problems obviously extend outside of
education. Speaking particularly of the black experience, she said
there continues to be danger in everyday activities.
“It’s not just driving while black anymore,” she said. “It’s living while black.”
Although there is still much work to be done and it can often feel
like little progress has been made, she said those who won awards that
evening are examples of the change-makers society needs. Her message was
just do something.
“If we want to make change, continue — all of you that got awards as
well as the other people — to do what you can do,” Berry said. “There’s
something you can do everyday. When you see something happening, you can
do something, whether you do it surreptitiously or whether you do it
out in the open.”
Berry examines these issues as well as other movements she’s been
part of in her latest book, History Teaches Us to Resist: How
Progressive Movements Have Succeeded in Challenging Times.
During the awards portion of the evening, UD Vice Provost for
Diversity Carol Henderson thanked the honorees for their dedication in
the fight for civil rights. She borrowed a few words from political
leader and activist Nelson Mandela to highlight the impact of the
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul — notes great
humanitarian, social activist and former president Nelson Mandela — than
the way in which a society treats its children,” Henderson said.
2018 Louis L. Redding Award Winners
Camille Sims-Johnson, director of UD's Upward Bound Math/Science program
Ramona Neunuebel, assistant professor of biological sciences
2018 Recognition of Legends Roll Call
Article by Carlett Spike; photos by Kevin Quinlan