Brown v. Board at 65: Virginia Tryon Smilack Remembers Her Father Fighting for Integration on the School Board — and Her 1952 Kindergarten Teacher Treating Her Differently as a Result
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BY VIRGINIA TRYON SMILACK

Early in January 1988, I drove to Claymont, Delaware, to visit my parents, Evelyn and Sager Tryon, who were still living in my childhood home. I found my parents in the living room, surrounded by papers everywhere! The floor, chairs, couch and the organ bench were covered. I had to move some of them before I could sit on the ottoman.

“What’s going on?” I asked. Sitting in his rocking chair, pipe in hand, dad said, with a sense of urgency, “The Claymont story must be told.”

Over the years, dad had never really talked in detail about the events of 1950-1954; nor had he told us how he, a white man, had become so emotionally invested in racial equality. Now he fervently expressed his desire to finally tell the story of the community of Claymont, Delaware, and its stand for school integration. As I sat and listened to dad reminisce, sharing his memories of being actively involved on the school board and in the decisions they made, my mind awakened to my own recollections of those years. Although I was very young when the events that led to school integration occurred (I was born in 1947), I had retained memories — some clear, some disjointed, from that time. Now my childhood memories began to fall into place: the phone calls, going with dad when he talked to people, the meetings in the house, the tears, the anger, the hope and the joy.

My job as the youngest child was to call dad to dinner each night. One evening, I went into the living room where he was sitting in his rocking chair. He was reading the newspaper and not sleeping as he sometimes did. I was startled when he spoke out loud; “Now we can do it!”

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