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Claymont High School recognizes the Claymont Twelve, 70th anniversary of desegregation

Lawmakers and community members gathered at the Claymont Community Center Friday morning to remember its time as Claymont High School, and commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Claymont Twelve.

The former Claymont High School played a pivotal role in desegregation in Delaware and across the nation.

The Claymont Twelve’s parents petitioned for their children to attend Claymont, a white school, so they wouldn’t have to walk 20 miles round trip to Howard, the state’s only black school at the time. The petition was denied in 1951, but they won their case in Delaware’s Chancery Court in 1952.

One student, Louise Belton, stayed at Howard, but Joan Anderson and her sisters, Merle and Carol, graduated from Claymont. Joan has fond memories of her time there.

“They became like family to us," Anderson said. "So, it was something that was ingrained in us from our family. I remember in Claymont High School, some of us went into the slums in Wilmington, the white kids and the black kids, we all went into the slums and the black families, we cleaned their houses. And this is how we were raised and this is how the people in Claymont were. It was just something that we continued to do to grow in this way. That's why today I try to help people out too.”

Anderson says she has fond memories of her high school. And, she’s glad the young students there now are learning the local history .

The school is now a community center, and Allison David is the CEO.

“This story of integration is truly an example of the community coming together in order to integrate," David said. "The story demonstrates the bravery of so many people.”

David says students in Claymont Elementary School are currently learning about the Delaware segregation cases and the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. Several kids displayed artwork of the Claymont Twelve.

Sen. Chris Coons said it may be hard for young students today to understand why segregation was such a big deal.

“That was a lot of history," Coons said. "But there's a simple lesson for our elementary school students in that people will divide us if we let them. People will deny us history if we let them. There is a beautiful chapter to American history right here in Claymont.

The Claymont lawsuit along with one other from Delaware, ultimately joined four other NAACP cases in the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.

Rachel Sawicki is Delaware Public Media's New Castle County Reporter. They are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.