Posts Tagged ‘desegregation’

Barbara Johns & the Moton High School Strike

Barbara Johns & the Moton High School Strike Research Topic

Barbara Johns & the Moton High School Strike Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

We have all heard about legendary civil rights heroes such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Little Rock Nine, but few today remember Barbara Rose Johns and the role she played in school desegregation. Sixty-five years ago this April, she led a strike in Farmville, Virginia, that had repercussions in school districts across the United States. A little background: Barbara was born in New York City in 1935, but her family moved to Prince Edward County, Virginia, where her father ran a small farm. Her uncle was Vernon Johns, a prominent civil rights activist. In 1951 in Farmville, there were two high schools. Farmville High School was for the white students, and it had plenty of classroom space, a gymnasium, a modern auditorium, locker rooms and a cafeteria, among other niceties. Moton High School – specifically, Robert Russa Moton High School (named after the influential black educator who took over for Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute) – was not so nice.

Robert Russa Moton High School

Robert Russa Moton High School via National Archives [Public Domain]

Moton was in a state of disrepair. The toilets were old and cracked; the roof leaked so bad that some students kept umbrellas with them to keep the dripping water from getting on their papers; wood-burning stoves did not provide adequate heat in the winter months; text books and supplies were secondhand and scarce, but worst of all – the school was dreadfully overcrowded. More than 450 students were crammed into a space meant for 180. Some classes were held in makeshift classrooms, shacks made of wood frames and tar-coated paper walls that the students called “chicken coops,” while other students attended classes in buses in the parking lot. Like most students, Johns, a 16-year-old junior at the time, was extremely frustrated at the conditions at the school. She expressed her concerns to her teacher, Inez Davenport. Barbara said she wished something could be done about it. Davenport then said, “Why don’t you do something about it?” Barbara did not forget that question and later conceived the idea of a school strike. The strike was held on April 23, 1951. The next day, a student strike committee met with the school superintendent who listened to their concerns, but then threatened to expel them and fire the teachers if they did not return to classes. He did, however, promise them a new school but did not say when they would get it. This was all the students were hoping for. According to Johns, it never occurred to them that the strike would lead to a desegregation lawsuit. They just wanted improvements to the school, or, at most, a new school. Students contacted the NAACP in Richmond for help. Lawyers Oliver W. Hill and Spottswood Robinson were concerned about how serious the striking students were, but after meeting with them, they decided to take the case, but it would not be just about school improvements…it would be about desegregation.

Brown v Board of Education Research Topic

Brown v Board of Education Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

The case was called Dorothy E. Davis v County School Board of Prince Edward County. This lawsuit was rolled up into the larger Brown v. Board of Education case, which was decided in 1954. The Earl Warren Supreme Court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and held that segregation was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This paved the way for the integration of schools across America. As for Barbara Johns, she finished high school in Montgomery, Alabama. She then attended college in Atlanta and then at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She married a minister, raised five children and was a librarian in the Philadelphia Public School system until her death in 1991.

Learn more about Barbara Rose Johns, desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement in eLibrary.


African-American History Topic Search

African Americans Research Topic

Earl Warren: Justice for All (Book)

Education Topic Search

Education and Racial Integration Equal Protection (Exploring the Constitution Series) (Book)

Education in the U.S. Research Topic

Jim Crow Laws Research Topic

Journal of African-American History (Scholarly Journal)

Little Rock (Book)

U.S. Constitution Research Topic

Teaching ToolThe Girl from the Tar Paper School,” by Teri Kanefield, tells the story of Barbara Rose Johns and the Farmville, VA Strike.


July 1964: 50 Years of the Civil Rights Act

July 2, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of a turning point in American civil rights history. It was on this day the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. Many consider this law the toughest civil rights statute since Reconstruction and perhaps the most significant piece of legislation of the entire twentieth century. The Act prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. It banned racial segregation in the workplace, schools and public facilities. It protected voter rights by barring unequal registration requirements for people of color, although it did not bar all voting discrimination.

While it was originally proposed by President Kennedy in 1963, he had reservations about passing civil rights legislation. Southern legislators who controlled the Senate were opposed to it, and President John Kennedy wanted to ensure his other legislative priorities would be given attention and passage. President Kennedy believed he would have a second term to enact civil rights legislation.  His assassination in November 1963 would be the catalyst for President Lyndon Johnson, a former senator from the South, to use his political skill in working with the Senate to achieve a law long overdue even risking his own political future.

President Lyndon Johnson shakes the hand of Dr. Martin Luther King at the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Beyond the surface of the Civil Rights Act, its impact was almost immediate and its legacy varied. Strides were quickly made in regard to desegregation in public accommodations and voting rights which helped spur the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  While there remained inequities among the races, division by race and class primarily, opportunities for African Americans, and in later years Latinos, Asians and Native Americans increased.  Rep. John Lewis, a notable veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, in recalling the days of discrimination and segregation, perhaps put the impact and legacy of the law best:  “Those signs are gone, the fear is gone.  America is a better nation and we are a better people because of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”