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Delaware Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr., who graduated from UD
in 1980 with majors in political science and geography, delivers the
10th James R. Soles Lecture on the Constitution and Citizenship,
discussing his father's legacy in bringing about the desegregation of
Every year, the University of Delaware’s James R. Soles Lecture on
the Constitution and Citizenship celebrates both the U.S. Constitution
and the legacy of the late professor of political science who taught and
inspired so many young people to dedicate their lives to public
This year, the speaker—who was, like many in the in-person and online
audiences at UD, a former student of Prof. Soles—also used the occasion
to recognize his own father’s legacy in bringing about the
desegregation of Delaware’s schools.
Collins J. Seitz Jr., chief justice of the state Supreme Court,
delivered a lecture titled “Black, White and Brown: The desegregation
decisions of the 1950s in Delaware,” which summarized the landmark
rulings in three court cases issued by Collins J. Seitz, who was then a
judge in the Delaware Court of Chancery.
Judge Seitz’s first groundbreaking ruling came in 1950, when he
ordered the University of Delaware to admit African American students
for the first time. Although segregated schools were mandated by the
state constitution, and an earlier U.S. Supreme Court ruling had allowed
“separate but equal” segregated schools, Judge Seitz determined that
the separate institutions of higher education in Delaware were far from
equal. He compared UD to what was then Delaware State College, the
institution open to Black students, and found that UD offered more
faculty members, more courses of study, more scholarships, accreditation
and other opportunities.
In similar cases elsewhere, many judges had merely ordered the
improvement of schools open to Black students, a process that might take
decades if it happened at all, in order to satisfy the “equal”
requirement and maintain segregation.
“But instead of taking the easy path of delay and continued
prejudice,” Judge Seitz instead issued an injunction requiring UD to
accept applications from Black students, the chief justice said in his
lecture. In fact, he said, his father handed his ruling to the Chancery
Court chancellor, who was also a member of UD’s Board of Trustees, and
said, “Here, I enjoin you.”
(To learn more about this case, Parker v. the University of Delaware, see UD’s online exhibition.)
Two years later, Judge Seitz heard similar arguments filed by the
same pioneering Delaware attorney, Louis L. Redding, on behalf of an
elementary school student and a high school student, both African
American, seeking admission to what were then all-white public schools
in Hockessin and Claymont. He again ruled that the segregated schools
were unequal and ordered them to desegregate. In 1954, the cases became
part of the Brown v. Board of Education that went to the U.S. Supreme
Court; they were the only rulings in the bundle of cases in which a
lower-court judge had found in favor of desegregation.
"The cold hard fact is that the state in this situation discriminates
against Negro children," Judge Seitz wrote in his historic 1952
decision. His work was quoted repeatedly by the U.S. Supreme Court when
it ruled unanimously in Brown that separate schools are not equal.
(To read more about the Brown decision, and the local cases that comprised it, see this Smithsonian website.)
Chief Justice Seitz told the Soles Lecture audience that his father
had grown up in segregated Delaware, in a family struggling during the
Depression, and had little interaction with African Americans in his
early years. He said his father described himself as a child of the
Depression and the youngest of five, both situations that made him
empathize with the underdog.
He also cited two incidents his father witnessed that further led him
to becoming a champion of civil rights: Mistreatment of a Black
passenger by the driver when she failed to move quickly to the back of a
bus; and a car crash in which the white driver was at fault but the
Black driver was arrested. His father, the chief justice said, often
spoke about the need for everyone to have the moral courage to stand up
for the ideals of America.
In his Constitution Day talk, Seitz also mentioned two current
efforts to improve diversity and inclusion in Delaware. The former
Hockessin Colored School No. 107, central to the 1952 Delaware
desegregation case, is being transformed into a center for diversity,
inclusion and social equity, where it will serve as a historical site
and a meeting place for diversity training and community discussions.
Another ongoing initiative Seitz described is a project to diversify
Delaware’s legal community, through a variety of efforts, including
pipeline programs designed to support and welcome underrepresented
students and encourage them to consider careers in the law.
Watch the Lecture
James R. Soles
he Soles Lecture honors the late James R. Soles, who was a faculty member in the Department of Political Science and International Relations
for more than 34 years, in addition to marking Constitution Day, which
commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia on
Sept. 17, 1787.
Prof. Soles, who died in 2010, received the University’s Excellence
in Teaching Award twice and its Excellence in Advising Award, as well as
the University’s Medal of Distinction. He received many honors and
recognitions in his distinguished career, but he is still best
remembered for his personal dedication to teaching and to his students.
“His influence continues today,” David Redlawsk, the James R. Soles
Professor of Political Science and chair of the department, said in
welcoming the audience to the lecture. “He holds a special place in our
department and in the state.”
The James R. Soles Citizenship Endowment, established by alumni and
friends, supports a named professorship, undergraduate citizenship
stipends and graduate fellowships.
Article by Ann Manser; photo by Kathy F. Atkinson
Published Sept. 21, 2021
Delaware Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr.