Louis L. Redding, Civil Rights Pioneer
Louis L. Redding was born in Alexandria, Virginia on October 25, 1901, to parents Lewis Alfred Redding and Mary Ann (Holmes) Redding. He was the eldest of four children. Redding’s brother, J. Saunders Redding, was a noted author and college professor. His sisters Lillian Redding Bailey and C. Gwendolyn Redding were teachers in the Wilmington School System.
The Reddings moved to Wilmington, Delaware and resided at 203 East 10th Street in Wilmington. At that time, this location was in the heart of an upscale, African-American neighborhood that occupied 10th Street, Walnut Street, and French Street.
Louis attended segregated public schools and graduated from Howard High School (the only high school for African Americans in the state at the time) in 1919. He enrolled at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and graduated with honors in 1923. After college, Redding became vice principal of Fessenden Academy in Ocala, Florida and later taught at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1925, Redding entered Harvard Law School. He was the only African-American in Harvard Law’s 1928 graduating class. He was admitted to the Delaware bar in the following year.
In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a Louisiana law mandating “separate but equal” accommodations for blacks and whites on intrastate railroads was constitutional. This decision provided the legal foundation to justify many other actions by state and local governments to socially separate blacks and whites.
—— Segregation: Always Separate but never Equal ——
Parker v. University of Delaware
In 1950, Redding filed a case against the University of Delaware which barred black students. Redding argued that the Delaware State College was not Equal to the University of Delaware. Chancellor Collins Seitz visited both the white and African American colleges. Finding the African American college to be “grossly inferior,” he ordered the plaintiffs to be admitted to the all-white University of Delaware.
In 1951, Redding filed two cases : Belton v. Gebhart, which concerned high school education, and Bulah v. Gebhart. Psychiatrist Frederic Wertham, and 14 other experts testified that segregated education severely damaged the mental health of African American children. Chancellor Seitz listened to the arguments, visited the schools in question. In 1952 he ordered that African American students be immediately admitted to white schools.
Brown v. Board of Education
• South Carolina: Briggs vs. Elliott
• Virginia: Davis v. Edward County
• Delaware: Beulah v. Gephardt and Belton vs. Gephardt
• Kansas case: Brown v. Board of Education
• District of Columbia: Bolling vs. Sharpe
The Supreme Court’s Decision
The decision in Brown was announced on May 17, 1954. Chief Justice Earl Warren read the unanimous opinion. The Court framed the issue as whether “segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race deprives the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities.” The Court found that it did, concluding that “[t]o separate [black] children from others of similar age and qualifications generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in ways unlikely ever to be undone.” The Court went on to rule that “[s]eparate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
During the 57 years that he practiced law in Delaware, Redding handled cases that successfully challenged discrimination in housing, public accommodations, employment, and the criminal justice system. He worked for the Public Defender’s Office in Wilmington, Del., from 1965 to 1984 and then retired from law practice.
Redding passed away in 1998 hospital in Lima, Pa. He was 96 and lived in Glen Mills, Pa.
The Redding House Foundation, Inc., a Delaware non-profit corporation, was established on September 15, 1997, for purposes of owning, operating, maintaining and preserving the Louis L. Redding House as a museum and community center. The Redding House, a non-profit museum and historical landmark located near downtown Wilmington, Delaware, commemorates Mr. Redding’s legacy and his tremendous contributions to civil rights, the community and the law.