The 1950s – Times of Transition


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By 1950, enrollment had swelled to 479 students… in a school with a full capacity of 200. By 1957, there were 2,312 Salesianum graduates making a difference in the world. The old building at 8th and West Streets could no longer comfortably accommodate the student body. In April of 1957, a new era began as Salesianum opened at its present location on 1801 North Broom Street in Wilmington. The “new” school building is a monument to Father Thomas Lawless, O.S.F.S., the eighth principal of Salesianum, whose philosophy made a great impact on American Catholic education.  

Although he served the school in numerous ways, Father Lawless is best remembered for his decision to enroll five African American students at Salesianum in 1950. These five were the first African American students accepted into a Delaware high school that was not racially segregated. In this way, Salesianum desegregated four years before the U. S. Supreme Court struck down segregation in Brown v. Board of Education.

When asked why he led Salesianum to desegregate, Father Lawless stated, “I think it is a case of reaching a point of either stopping the preaching of democracy or starting to practice it,” (Salesianum: The First One Hundred Years, 103). Father Lawless was cited in a footnote to this landmark ruling of the Supreme Court.