Fifty years ago today, February 18, 1959, twenty three African American students walked into Warren County High School in Front Royal, Virginia for the first time. A young girl, Betty Kilby, was the plaintiff in the 1958 case brought to desegregate Warren County schools. Following on the heals of the landmark Supreme Court decision of 1954, Brown v. Board of Education, the Betty Ann Kilby vs. Warren County Board of Education case became personal for me.
Commemorative ceremonies are planned for today and Saturday in Front Royal.
I met Betty Kilby at Eastern Mennonite University last summer when we both participated in the Summer Peacebuilding Institute’s Coming to the Table class. It was there that I purchased her book Wit, Will, and Walls and learned of her story. A short film has also been produced. Watch the trailer here.
Betty and her family endured significant trauma battling Virginia’s apartheid system. Her late father, James Wilson Kilby, was the president of the local branch of the NAACP and filed the suit. Betty has faced instances of discrimination and terror that no one should be forced to endure. Having lived through it all Betty is a loving, happy, and deeply spiritual woman dedicated to healing and hope and helping others on their own healing path through dialogue and honesty.
Though I recognize how much work remains to be done in order to achieve equality and justice for all in the United States I also marvel at how far we’ve come in my lifetime along that path. Betty is living proof.