I was a Supporter

Adda Dilts, the Kalamazoo Friends Meeting and AFSC, by Caroline Kerman Wildflower

The Kalamazoo Friends Meeting was founded in 1954, with a lot of help from Adda Dilts, whom I remember as the elder of our Meeting. She encouraged the children and teenagers to be involved and take on active and responsible roles. She also wrote a history of the Meeting for the 25th anniversary in 1979. The history is peppered with references to AFSC projects the Meeting has taken on. One in particular is a project which still brings tears to my eyes. This story starts in 1960 when I was 13 years old. From here on, I will quote Adda, with my notes in [].

The other refugees [supported by the Kalamazoo Friends Meeting] that year [1960] were black American teenagers from Prince Edward County, Virginia. In order to avoid court ordered desegregation, that county had closed all its public schools. The white residents organized private schools for their children – some of them very makeshift. The black students were left with no educational facilities whatever. This condition lasted several years...The AFSC decided to try to find Meetings and communities which would sponsor one or more junior or senior high students. Naturally it took a good deal of courage for parents to allow their children to journey to an unknown place “Up North” and courage on the part of the children to undertake such a venture. Not all eligible children took advantage of the opportunity which was offered. We decided to participate in this important project and were assigned three young people: one tenth grade girl and two of the boy cousins who were in eighth grade. We discovered the undertaking involved more red tape than we had realized, and I spent much of a long hot summer in an effort to untangle it.

First we organized a sponsoring committee, with members of the Human Relations Council, two or three pastors of black churches and several members of their congregations, as well as members of the Friends Meeting. This committee found two responsible black families who offered foster homes for the children for at least a year. The group raised money for travel expenses and other needs of the children. We obtained permission from the school authorities to admit them without the usual tuition charged for out of town students. We thought we were quite well organized, until we discovered that one of the biggest hurdles of all had yet to be met. We learned that state law required that we must obtain permission from the State Welfare Department to bring in monors to attend school and live with people who were not blood relatives. It was not easy to do this and it required many letters, telephone calls and personal interview. Time was growing short and we began to wonder whether arrangements could be completed before school began. Fortunately Ralph and Cynthia Kerman were in town that summer as co-directors of an AFSC International Relations Seminar at Kalamazoo College. I'm sure I ran them ragged with questions about new developments, but at least they were very helpful.

At last the necessary permission arrived. Our young students came and were welcomed by their foster parents. [Note: Adda also made sure that Gail Pettiford (now Willett) and I accompanied her to welcome them at the bus station and that this was reported in the newspaper, including a photo.] Plans were made for the first day of school. La Nae's new mother would take her to Central High School, while I took the boys to South Junior High. As we paused outside the entrance, I could feel the tension and anxiety of the boys and realized how much courage it was taking to go through that door. All went well, however. The pupils had been told about the young refugees, and there was a welcoming atmosphere, with smiles and friendly greetings. Someone offered us seats while we waited for time to go to the Assembly Room where home rooms were to be assigned. The boys were kept together in the same room and assigned to Mrs. Allen Seabolt's home room. She was a beautiful young teacher with some Negro blood – one of the very popular and efficient teachers of the school. After their enrollment had been completed, I took them to the school social worker, who already knew about them. She would be able to help them in any way possible and did.

The boys got along alright in their new home and school, though they made no startling records. At the end of the school year, a married older brother, who lived in an Eastern city, invite them to join his family. We lost track of them, but heard that they finished high school, got jobs and established homes of their own.

La Nae Johnson stayed with us for two years. The second year she stayed with [Quakers] Helen and Arnie Nelson and shared a room with Kris Nelson. She attended the A.M.E. Church, whose pastor and members took an interest in her, and where she sang in the choir. She was a teenager and had typical teen age problems, plus homesickness. She was determined to get an education however, and stuck it out. Funds for her support were exhausted after two years but she received another scholarship from another group in Medford, Mass. The Meeting held a punch bowl party for her before she left, and Caroline Kerman, Kris Nelson and I saw her off on the bus.

Before many years we lost track of her, though we knew she had finished high school. It was a pleasant surprise to have her come to Kalamazoo in 1973, especially to say thank you to those who had been so kind to her. She had received a B.A. From Newark State College, an M.A. From Seton Hall and was planning to work on a Ph.D. from Columbia University. She was teaching elementary science in East Orange, New Jersey and enjoying it and developing a good philosophy of education. In an interview with a reporter she said of Kalamazoo - “The people there were great and warm. They became a part of me and I of them.” So our efforts and worries had proved worthwhile. And we felt amply rewarded!

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