As Milford Middle School sits quietly along Lakeview Avenue, empty of all students, a Delaware Public Archives historical marker reminds passers-by of history made by 11 black students hoping to play a role in desegregation, only months after the Brown v. Board of Education case called for equal education for all students.
In 1954, it was Milford High School, and the first group of African American students was preparing to integrate into the all-white school. Public outcry from residents, mostly parents, in the southern Delaware city put Milford on the radar as those first 11 students, including now Wilmington resident Orlando Camp, were forced to finish their high school careers elsewhere.
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark decision to end segregation in education, Delaware Public Archives has invited Camp, co-author of "The Milford Eleven," to speak about his first-hand experiences and to discuss the future of education in Delaware.
The program, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. this Saturday, is free and open to the public and will take participants through Camp's experience in the Milford desegregation crisis of 1954, from the beginning and up until the day students were forced to leave Milford High School and return to their segregated schools.
"It was a very tense period in Milford during that time, and there're still a lot of folks around that have memories of that time period," said Tom Summers, manager of outreach service at the Delaware Public Archives. "It had an effect on so many people's lives, not only in Milford, but throughout Delaware.
"It's important that piece of history is kept alive and to have somebody who was actually a member of the Milford Eleven and tried to integrate the school, having a program from their perspective is very interesting."
Camp, who will focus not only on the past but also on the future of education, said that while the Brown v. Board of Education case played a critical role in educational opportunities for all students despite race, there is still a lot of work to be done.
"There are very few people that can say that they lived in two different worlds. I grew up in a segregated world, based upon the 1896 'separate but equal' doctrine, and to go from that to having an African American president, it's absolutely phenomenal to have that kind of experience," Camp said. "The message I would like to get through is that we could not have been as successful as we have been if it had not been for Brown. Brown changed race relations forever, and if it had not been for Brown, we would not have experienced the accomplishments of the race relations that we have today, even though it's not 100 percent."
The program will explore how Delaware played a role in the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, Camp explained, and will take a look at how the 11 students at Milford High School's attempt at integration took place before the civil rights movements of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. The last point Camp plans to cover is how the schools are still segregated today as inner city schools are predominately minorities and how the nation, and the educational system, is not done fighting for civil rights.
Page 2 of 2 - "We still have a long way to go," Camp said. "But I think we need to spend a lot more time understanding what success means today. It's not what it meant yesterday. This is only a celebration of 60 years … and I think we need to make some corrections as we celebrate this 60th anniversary.
"We still have to make some major changes if we're going to be successful as a country," he added. "We're losing ground. Education is not getting the support it needs and everyone is suffering because of that."