To commemorate the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme court case that declared racially segregated school unconstitutional, the Delaware Public Archives in Dover hosted a special program on Saturday, February 1 led by Orlando Camp, one of the first African American children that attempted integration in Milford High School in 1954. Dubbed the Milford Eleven by media outlets at that time, Orlando and his classmates were admitted to Milford High School as the nation watched the twenty-eight day journey of eleven school children.
Orlando began the program describing the landscape of the United States during the 1950s. He stated that his intention was not to embarrass anyone but to allow his audience to understand what the social climate was like when he was a teenager.
“There were two America, one white and one black,” commented Camp. “If you wanted to go to the movies you had to sit upstairs in the colored section, if you wanted to get a scoop of ice cream with your best girl you were served out of the back of the establishment. We sure have come a long way from then.”
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education in May 1954, Camp received a phone call that summer asking families to meet at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Milford. While there he was told that he would be attending the white school that following fall along with ten other black students.
“At the time I did not know the significance of integration, I was just excited that I would get an education that was equal to the white students,” commented Camp. “I felt that with this education I could have an equal opportunity for advancement in life.”
Ultimately, Milford proved unready to join other schools around the nation that successfully integrated. Under rising tensions and threats of violence, the African-American students were withdrawn from the school after attending for less than a month. The legal victory realized by Brown v. Board of Education was not realized over night, in fact it would take Milford school District nine more years before the first class of African Americans graduated in 1965.
Camp earned his high school diploma from William Henry Comprehensive High School in Dover and was drafted into the United States Army. During the train ride to basic training, Orlando experienced discrimination again as the train stopped in North Carolina to eat lunch. He was told by officers that the establishment where the men were eating did not serve blacks.
“First I felt like running through that field and running all the way home but I did not, I was on my way to serve my country and could not be served because of the color of my skin,” commented Camp. “But sometimes it is not where you start but where you finish, I thought about my experiences as one of the Milford Eleven and wanted to make a change.” During his service in the United States Army Orlando received the Outstanding Soldier of the Year award.
He continued his education at Delaware County Community College and Temple University. Camp enjoyed a long, successful sales and marketing management career working for Scott Paper Company, Birds Eye Food, Stanson Corporation and the State of Delaware.
In 2012, fifty-eight years after the attempt to integrate Milford High School, the Milford Eleven received Honorary Degrees from the Milford High School during the annual graduation ceremonies. “We were very proud of that, what it did for us was give us an opportunity to close some wounds and heal some people,” commented Camp. “I am very proud to have Superintendent Sharon Kanter honor us during that ceremony.”
Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Orlando is grateful for the changes in education that have taken place around the United States, stating that it is now unacceptable to discriminate by color, religion or national origin. He does however feel that there is still work to be done as “we face different methods of separating human beings including lifestyles, looks, poverty and socialism.”
“We cannot let the candle on this cake go dim, it is important that our kids understand the importance of the legal victory of Brown v. Board of Education,” stated Camp. “With only forty-seven percent of black males graduating from Delaware public schools we must change these numbers if Brown is going to succeed.”