Former teacher shares her desegregation experience


The Delaware African American Heritage Council (DAAHC) held the first of its Sankofa series of talks about the African American experience in Delaware Wednesday night, when one resident shared her story and encouraged attendees to advocate for change.

The discussion was given by Theodora Higgenbotham, a local author and a former educator at Delaware City Schools. It was hosted by Cassandra Binkley.

Higgenbotham spoke about her upbringing and what it was like attending segregated schools in West Virginia and then in Delaware after her family moved to Ohio in the 1950s. Higgenbotham said she was attending school when the United States Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education and schools were desegregated. Higgenbotham shared her experience of what the first day of integrated school was like.

“There were people on the high school campus waiting,” Higgenbotham said. “Some were clapping and welcoming us. A small group were jeering, saying mean words and being defiant. There were armed guards for our protection. … The kids all looked curiously at me. Some came up and rubbed my skin. Others held their nose like they could smell me.”

Higgenbotham said her experiences in school made her want to become a teacher and improve the culture around education.

“The reason I wanted to become a teacher was I always wanted to make right the wrongs,” Higgenbotham said. “There are kids who are quiet or have come from different backgrounds. Those kids are a person, and they grow up to be adults. You’ve got to show them they can be anything they desire to be. … That you can make it if you try. If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”

Higgenbotham said she became a teacher and worked in a variety of positions in Delaware City Schools throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s. She added she always aimed to treat her students like family.

“To teach is to love,” Higgenbotham said. “To me, teaching means going beyond the classroom. It’s giving to the kids.”

The entire talk can be viewed on the Delaware African American Heritage Council’s Facebook page.

Melissa Harris, DAAHC co-chair, said the Sankofa Storytelling Series will continue through the rest of the year and will feature one speak every quarter. She added storytelling “forges connections among people, and between people and ideas.”

“As DAAHC has grown since forming in 2018, we have been asked to bring the stories of our local elders to light so we can not only celebrate them, but also learn from their experiences of what being African American in Delaware, Ohio, has meant to them,” Harris said. “The literal meaning of Sankofa, ‘to go back and get it,’ has been one of the key factors that led to our inception. Storytelling is the oldest form of teaching and is a pivotal factor in African culture. Stories define us, shape us, control us and make us. Stories convey the culture, history, and values that unite people.”

Harris said the Sankofa series has several goals.

“(The goals are) increase awareness and highlight the local African American experience,” Harris said. “Honor storytellers as keepers of the culture and shapers of the collective movement. Document stories within the Delaware African American community to pass down and pass up. Teach, influence and inspire!”

Harris said the next event is being planned for the summer in either June or July.

By Glenn Battishill

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Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.

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