Salesianum Celebrates Historic Anniversary


Mr. Fred Smith and Mr. James Owens embrace as they take the stage for the Quintus Day celebration at Salesianum.

Andres Samson '20, Staff Writer

November 14, 1950. The day began like all others, but would prove to impact the future in a remarkable way. On this day in history, five courageous individuals entered the doors of Salesianum on 8th and West and became the first African American students to walk the halls of the school. Despite the abnormal circumstances, students and teachers alike remarked that it was as if nothing had ever changed. In retrospect, it was a truly extraordinary moment that set the precedent for schools in Delaware to desegregate and begin welcoming all people into the classroom.

One building and 68 years later, the day once again began like all others. Unbeknownst to the students of Salesianum, this day was very special, and the surprise school assembly that was to come would prove it. On the morning of November 14, 2018, Mr. Fred Smith and Mr. James Owens, two of the first five African American students to attend Salesianum, proudly entered a crowded auditorium on Broom Street and, this time, were met by a standing ovation. The thunderous applause continued as the two men hugged before taking the stage to relive their momentous first day at Salesianum. It was a moment that will forever be remembered by the Salesian community that was present. “They got the hero’s welcome they deserved,” said Fr. Beretta. And welcomed they were.

For Mr. Smith and Mr. Owens, the opportunity to return to Salesianum was, “a grand honor.” Their radiant smiles said it all: the honorable guests enjoyed witnessing how the school had evolved and grown throughout the years, but more importantly, how the living stones of the school have continued to celebrate their legacy. For the students, it was a chance to listen to the incredible story first-hand and see the school through a different lens. The two men spent time reflecting on their high school days and offered unique insight about living through difficult times many years before. Mr. Owens revealed that, “the realizations [of segregation] … made you aware of what you had to do [as an African American].” Mr. Smith went on to describe how, upon entering the doors of Salesianum, “Everyone was nice to you … there were no problems, everyone was beautiful, [and] everyone maintained the good things in life … we were happy to be in school.” Their stories were truly inspirational.

As Salesian gentlemen, a great deal can be learned from that historic day 68 years ago. The stories and lessons Mr. Owens and Mr. Smith shared were priceless, and the assembly was the perfect way to honor their historical accomplishment. Now, more than ever, is the time to follow the examples that they set. Perhaps Mr. Owens expressed it best, “The future is in your hands … continue the high quality of living as God’s people. Be great!”