Robert Russa Moton Museum
One of the few public high schools available to African Americans in the state was Robert Russa Moton High School in Prince Edward County. Built in 1939, it was never large enough to accommodate its student population. Eventually, hastily constructed tar-paper-covered buildings were added as classrooms. The gross inadequacies of these classrooms sparked a student strike in 1951. Organized by sixteen-year-old Barbara Johns, the students initially sought to acquire a new building. The NAACP soon joined their struggles and challenged the inferior quality of their school facilities in court. Although the U.S. District Court ordered that the plaintiffs be provided with equal school facilities, they were denied access to the white schools in their area. This class action case soon joined four other cases in what would be known as Brown v. Board of Education
Backstory and Context
In April 1951, 16 year-old Barbara Johns took action. She got an accomplice to phone the school's principal and ask him to go to the bus terminal on the pretext of picking up two truants. While he was gone, she convinced the students to go on strike the following day to demand a better school. A NAACP organizer convinced the parents of the striking students that the strike would succeed only if the students attacked segregation head-on, through the courts.
In 1953, the NAACP lost Davis v. The County School Board of Prince Edward County in a federal district court but won the suit a year later in the Supreme Court through Brown v. Board of Education.
The Commonwealth of Virginia led the "massive resistance" movement against the Supreme Court decision by threatening to close its public schools. The schools in Prince Edward County were closed from 1959 to 1964, making it the only county in the nation to close its public schools for an extended period to avoid desegregation.