Separate But Unequal

How a Student-Led Protest Helped Change the Nation

Barbara Johns

Barbara Johns led a student walkout to protest overcrowding at the Moton High School. Courtesy Joan Johns Cobbs hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Joan Johns Cobbs
Students arrive at Moton High School.

Students arrive at Moton High School. In the background of this undated photo is one of the tarpaper-covered wooden buildings that were added to address overcrowding at the school. Courtesy Moton Museum hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Moton Museum
A classroom at Moton High School.

A classroom at Moton High School, heated by a stove, c. 1953. Courtesy Moton Museum hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Moton Museum

In 1951, 16-year-old Barbara Johns led students in a rural Virginia county on an historic walkout to protest overcrowding at their all-black school. The resulting court case became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling 50 years ago in which the Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional.

NPR's Juan Williams has a two-part report on the legacy of events at Moton High School in Prince Edward County, Va. It's part of NPR's series on the 50th anniversary of the Brown ruling.

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, tarpaper shacks were set up in the schoolyard to accommodate Moton's overflowing student body.

Johns and other students convinced the NAACP in Richmond to file suit against the county school board. The case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court, where it became part of Brown. But despite the May 17, 1954, decision in Brown, Prince Edward County refused to integrate and in 1959, closed all its public schools. It took another Supreme Court ruling in 1964 to re-open them.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.