Following in the steps of an education pioneer
PRINCESS ANNE, MD - (May 17, 2013) - When Letitia DeLaine received her doctorate during the 2013 spring commencement at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, she penned another chapter in her family’s remarkable story of education pioneers.
She took a chance three years ago by becoming one of the first students to enroll in UMES’ new pharmacy school.
Her great-granduncle, the late Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine Sr., was also a trailblazer. He was a civil rights leader in South Carolina behind Briggs v. Elliott, the first of five school desegregation lawsuits that eventually would be argued collectively before the U.S. Supreme Court
Fifty-nine years ago today, the court issued the landmark “Brown v. Board of Education” decision that transformed public education.
The serendipity of the calendar is not lost on Letitia, who at 29, knows the value of education and appreciates her ancestor’s role in changing our nation.
“Education has always been important to my family,” she said. “When I think of what my uncle and his family endured, it’s humbling and inspiring.”
Harry and Eliza Briggs and other black adults in Summerton, S.C. after World War II believed the path to overcoming discrimination they and their children endured daily was through education.
“All they wanted was a bus so their children wouldn’t have to walk” to school, Letitia said. R.W. Elliott and other whites who controlled the public school finances refused to provide transportation because they contended the parents of black children didn’t pay enough taxes to justify the expense.
As the Briggs’ case made its way successfully through the courts, African-Americans in Clarendon County faced retaliation. They were harassed and intimidated. Many lost their jobs or businesses and moved away.
DeLaine also felt the backlash. With help in 1955, he fled South Carolina, never to return, and found safe haven in New York. He eventually resettled in North Carolina to be near family, including Letitia’s great grandfather.
As a child, Letitia remembers family stories about “the Rev. J.A.”, but did not grasp their importance until she reached high school.
“The more I researched, the more I realized how big a deal it was to the whole world, and what my family’s role was – what contributions my family made, what sacrifices they had to make,” she said.
Her parents hold master’s degrees, and five paternal aunts and uncles are college educated. One is a lawyer, another is an engineer, and a third is studying to be a nurse.
Letitia graduated from North Carolina A&T in 2007 with a chemistry degree and worked as a pharmacy technician. A career as a pharmacist appealed to her when she saw “there is more to it than standing behind a counter dispensing medicine.”
“It is a way to make a difference in people’s lives, which is something that has motivated the DeLaines for generations,” she said.
Letitia’s family will attend graduation today, quietly content that May 17 is once again an important date in their collective history.
“It’s not something I spend a lot of time thinking about or talking about,” she said, “but I’m proud of the role my family had” in making history.
-- BILL ROBINSON, director, Office of Public Relations
Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine Sr. photo is from the Joseph A. DeLaine papers, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.