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Mon, 04.23.1951

Students protest Virginia segregated school

Barbara Johns statue

On this date in 1951, a 16-year-old African American girl led students from her overcrowded, segregated school in civil rights protest.

Barbara Johns led students from Farmville Virginia’s Moton High had on an historic walkout against insufficient education. The resulting court case from Ms. Johns’ activism became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in which the Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional. At the time of the protest, Moton High had 400 students in a building intended for about 150. Prince Edward County's Black parents had unsuccessfully petitioned the all-white school board for a new, larger school. Eventually, tar paper shacks were set up in the schoolyard to accommodate Moton's overflowing student body.

Robert Russa Moton High School, constructed in 1939, remains a one-story, simply designed brick building containing eight classrooms, an office, and an auditorium. Moton High was typical of the all-Black schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia, during the period. It had twice as many students as it was designed for and had no gym or cafeteria. The highest-paid teacher at Moton earned less than the lowest paid white teacher in the county.

That day the students gathered in the small and extremely over-crowed auditorium and marched down Main Street to the County Courthouse. It was there they attempted to make the county officials aware of the grave inequities in the public education provided to the Black students in the county compared with the education provided to the whites. Johns and other students convinced the NAACP in Richmond to file suit against the county school board. Prince Edward County refused to integrate and in 1959, and closed all its public schools. It took another Supreme Court ruling in 1964 to re-open them.

Reference:
Image Courtesy Joan Johns Cobbs,

National Public Radio,
635 Massachusetts Ave., NW,
Washington, D.C. 20001,

Hampden Sydney College,
Hampden-Sydney, VA 23943,

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