current boards consider mustering public support for building
programs and operating taxes a challenge, "a referendum is
nothing compared to what they did here," he said. He
referred to the decision to seek and then immediately comply
with a Court of Chancery order to end supposed 'separate but
equal' school segregation.
spoke on Apr. 2 at the opening of a permanent exhibit dedicated
to commemorating public education in Claymont in a conference
room at the Claymont Community Center. The exhibit, originated
and largely sponsored by Evelyn Tryon and her family, focuses on
peaceful integration of the former Claymont School and includes
memorabilia from the glory days of Claymont High. It is
on the second floor of 'Old Main', which housed the high
school before what is now the Claymont Intermediate
School was built.
dedication occurred 49 years and one day after
Chancellor Collins Seitz's decision, which preceded the
order, was handed down.
noted that Claymont -- alone among the school districts
in southern and border states whose racial policies led
eventually to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court's Brown
v. Board of Education decision in1954 -- not only
did not oppose integration but actively collaborated
with Seitz and civil rights attorney Louis Redding to
bring it about.
God, we had [their] vision and moral courage,"
today to the
Biden and Evelyn Tryon
of the action taken in September, 1952, by the board and
administration of what then was a separate local school district
in Delaware's northernmost community is its general acceptance,
he said. "They moved an idea from the margin of what was
thought to be right to become the popular wisdom."
by no means the case then, he added. "The leaders of this
community were saying break down the walls. In no other
community were they saying stop this unequal treatment."
own parents debated whether he should attend his elementary
parochial school on the day that 11 black youngsters were
to be admitted to Claymont School for fear of unrest and
possible violence in the community. There were no disturbances.
what he said is a personal rule against getting involved in
controversial local issues, Biden denounced the Brandywine
school board for what he called "a tragic mistake" in
the 1990 closure of the high school. The senator's wife, Jill,
was a teacher there at the time.
he said, "tore the heart and soul out of this
that virtually everyone regards their high school years as
the most significant four-year period of their lives. Referring
to his high school days at Archmere Academy, a private prep
school which also is in Claymont, he recited by name several
student athletes with and against whom he played and some girls
from the public school whom he knew socially.
rationale for closing [Claymont High] was its size; they said it
was too small. I would rather we pay more money and have 10 high
schools with 500 students than five high schools with 1,000
students," he said. That way there are twice as many
athletes, band members and involved in other student activities.
both themes to the community of Claymont, the senator described
it as "misunderstood."
image [others have] of Claymont is not the image I have of
Claymont. It is viewed just as a steel town, a rough and tumble
town. I say it is the most enlightened town in the state of
Delaware and one of the most enlightened in the entire United
States," he said.
lived in Claymont during his childhood and is still closely
associated with the community.
Holton, executive director of the community center, said that
the room and its display came about as part of an effort to tell
and preserve the history of public education in Claymont for
both outsiders and the children of those who experienced it
personally. Integration and the high school constitute its main
of the display lies in the fact that "if your children are
unaware of what you did, they are likely to forget what brought
us to this point," Biden said.
about, Holton said, "because of the hard work and
generosity" of Tryon and her family. She is the widow of
Sager Tryon, a Claymont resident and an American Viscose Corp.
research chemist popularly known as Doc. He was a member of the
school board at the time of integration and was instrumental in
noted that Evelyn Tryon, 85, "has done more in her
retirement [years] than the rest of us do in our careers."
A teacher, she and Doc joined the Peace Corps after their
retirements and worked in Fiji. She also has been a volunteer
tutor and organist at Atonement United Methodist Church. Of
particular note, Biden added, is the fact "she has helped a
couple of generations with their moral compasses as well as
wanted to do it so much but we had just a little window of time
to do it in," Tryon recalled. There were about 36 hours
between the time Seitz issued the court order to admit the black
students and the time the state Board of Education and attorney
general appealed his order. During those hours, Claymont
superintendent Harvey Stahl registered and arranged for the
students to report for class on opening day.
state authorities, upon filing of the appeal, ordered that the
youngsters be 'sent home', Stahl refused, explaining,
"We're dealing here with the lives of children." The
students remained and the first graduated from the high school
in 1954, just a few months after the Brown v. Board of
Education decision was handed down.
native of New York City who still lives in Claymont, recalled
accepting on behalf of her husband a Supreme Court subpoena.
"I was never so happy as when I took that subpoena. I was
just thrilled that the Supreme Court of the United States sent
someone to the little town of Claymont to deliver a subpoena to
us," she said.
Brown, the only member of that school board still living, said
he and his three colleagues were unanimous about moving ahead
with integration. He had come from northern New Jersey and
"saw no reason" why white and what then were referred
to as Negro or colored children should not attend the same
schools. In fact, he said, he regarded the issue at the time as
secondary in importance to the district's building
argument most compelling for him was testimony that the students
had to literally pass by Claymont School on their way to attend
Howard High School in Wilmington. "I knew that wasn't
right," he said.
Byrd Couch, who entered seventh grade as the youngest of the
admitted students, said she "was a little uneasy" on
the first day -- not so much because she was making history but
because the Claymont School building was so much bigger than the
one-room State Line 'Colored' School she had attended. "I
never really had any problems. I was the only black in my class,
but I had friends there and we stayed friends for years,"
she said. Now living in Atlantic City, N.J., she recently
attended a 40th anniversary reunion of her Claymont High School
agreed with Holton that it is unfortunate that today's history
books use the famous photo of black students entering Little
Rock (Ark.) High School under the protection of U.S. Army
paratroops' bayonets and do not even mention that the same
process had been accomplished years earlier in Claymont, Del.,
without a need for force.
get angry when I see that they ignore Claymont," she said.
"More people ought to know that we were first."