If you ask Marvin Jones, 75, it’s amazing that he’s back at his old high school at all, let alone with a limousine, marching band and red carpet.
When Jones left the Virginia school in 1966, he “promised” himself he would “never go back there,” he told CBS News. He was attending the school in a different era: Schools across the south were desegregating, and his school in Lawrenceville, Virginia, was one of them. Jones was one of 15 children taking their first, painful steps into the building.
“On the bus, students would bring KKK flyers,” Jones recalled. “When I would come down the hall, they would close their nose and say ‘Here comes a skunk.’ I felt as if I had leprosy.”
The other students — Yvonne Stewart, Vernal Cox, Sandra Goldman, Rosa Stith, Queen Marks, Joyce Walker, India Walker, Florence Stith, Elvertha Cox, Cecelia Mason, Carolyn Burwell, Beatrice Malone, Barbara Evans and Ashton Thurman — had similar experiences.
Even decades later, the memories haunted Jones. One day, to try to heal, Jones decided to put pen to paper and write letters to the very students who had tormented him.
In one letter, Jones said he left the school “very bitter” because of how he was “verbally abused on a daily basis.” He wrote 90 such letters, pouring his pain and heart out whether his former classmates wanted to hear it or not. Most didn’t, but one letter he mailed struck a different tone.
Paul Fleshood was one of the few students who never bullied Jones or said an unkind word, and when he received the letter, it “really touched” him, he told CBS News. Jones had written that there had been “many days” where he “wanted to strike up a conversation” with Fleshood and thought that they “could have been friends.”
Fleshood said he had the sense that Jones was trying to open a door. “I thought ‘Well, I’m going to go through that door,'” Fleshood said.
The two became close friends, and last week, Fleshood and other community leaders hosted a ceremony celebrating the “Brunswick 15,” embracing the students who had once been treated as untouchables with open arms.
That’s when Jones returned to the school where he said he had never had one good day as a student.
“It means a lot,” Jones said. “It means that we have overcome a lot. And I appreciate that.”