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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.

Conn, who moved to Delmar when she was in middle school, said the experience was also difficult for her and her sister. They hid much of what was said to them from their parents.

“My one friend in high school was the only Jewish person in the school,” she said. “Both of us weren’t welcome or a part of the day-to-day social aspects. Some friends could play with us when their fathers were at work, but they had to pretend we had nothing to do with us when their fathers were at home. The mothers were more accepting.”

Conn said some things were easier for her little sister because she was in elementary school when she came to Delmar. She grew up with the other children and was more accepted, until she became old enough to date.

“Then some doors were closed that had always been open to her before,” she said.

Westbrook said she didn’t know the children faced such social discrimination until later on.

“I always tell Miki her and her sister should write their own book because they have their own memories,” she said.

When the year was up and Westbrook moved back Delmar with her husband, the Cunninghams once again had trouble finding a home. The two families lived together for another month in the summer of 1958.

“What happened was there were people in Delmar, the Quakers, Unitarians and Methodists, the people from those churches reached out to the family and invited them to their services and events,” said Westbrook. “This helped them out, to know there were supportive and welcoming people out there.”

The Cunninghams eventually bought a house on Borthwick Avenue in Delmar.

“I think they ended up having a good experience,” said Westbrook. “If it was too terrible they wouldn’t have stayed.”

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