Bridging the divide

Writers of book on Delmar’s first black family to hold discussion

Arlen Westbrook in her Elsmere home, stands before a painting done by good friend Margaret Cunningham.

Arlen Westbrook in her Elsmere home, stands before a painting done by good friend Margaret Cunningham. Photo by Marcy Velte.

And apparently Arlen Westbrook and Margaret Cunningham had lots in common. The two baked and did art projects, while both women secretly kept a journal about their experiences.

The unlikely friendship struck between the two women of different races would forever change the history of Delmar. Westbrook and her husband had just invited the first African American family to live in Bethlehem.

“I realized Delmar was pretty white, but what I didn’t know was there was a conspiracy not to sell to Jews or blacks here at the time,” said Westbrook. “I only just learned that recently, after the book came out.”

When Westbrook and Cunningham finally told each other about the journals, they thought maybe their firsthand experiences could be turned into a book. In 2011, “Integrating Delmar 1957: The Story of a Friendship” was released.

Through the help of Conn, the book was self-published. James and Margaret Cunningham are both alive at 93 years old, but are frail. Westbrook is 83. Conn said they decided to self publish because the goal was to get the book printed in time for her parents to see it.

Conn said both Westbrook and Cunningham were very open and honest about their experiences when they wrote.

“She writes how she hoped my parents weren’t too dark so their color wasn’t an issue, but then she was ashamed of the thought,” said Conn. “Arlen didn’t know any African Americans growing up, but knew (renting them the house) was a matter of equality.”

Westbrook said there were varying degrees of consent among the neighbors.

“This was long before segregation laws, so there was still a lot of discrimination even in the north,” she said. “There were rumors that housing prices would fall if a black family moved in and several people talked to me about ‘what I had done.’ Some were supportive, and some unpleasant and afraid.”

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