Mitchell Award Honoree: Reba Hollingsworth
When Reba Hollingsworth grew up, there was a state law that only required Black Delawareans to receive enough education to read, write and count a bit. But since her mother’s dream was to go back and finish her own college degree was deferred, Hollingsworth decided to follow through for her.
“My mother kept saying she was going to get her degree, but after her fourth child, I think she realized she couldn’t,” said Hollingsworth, one of seven children who was born in Milford in 1926.
She left home at age 15 to attend 10th grade, renting a boarding room across the street from Booker T. Washington Middle School. There wasn’t higher education available for Black students in southern Delaware at the time. She went on to study at Delaware State College, where she earned a degree in home economics education — and started teaching in the First State. Along the way, she worked alongside her sister as a beautician and other odd jobs for extra money.
“You do what you have to do in order to survive. That’s what you do. And you just try to improve your situation as you go out. And that’s what I did,” she said. “I’m always trying to look for something good, and if you really want to make it better, you can do that.”
Hollingsworth later earned a master’s degree from the University of Delaware as one of the first members of its desegregated classes, and a doctorate from Pacific Western University. She has served on the Delaware Heritage Commission, a state entity charged with protecting and promoting the state’s history and heritage, as well as key roles in the state NAACP and the African American Historical Society.
Passionate about travel, Hollingsworth believes that diversity is about understanding that we are all citizens of the world, and the things people have in common are greater than their differences.
“I’ve been in this world a long time, everyone has some color,” she said. “A lot of the problem is people who haven’t been anywhere different and want to feel superior to others. I’ve been up and down this state, the country and elsewhere. I’ve found people are people, wherever you go. The biggest communication I have known in life is a smile.”