GROUP #1 - Barbara Johns and the 1951 Student Strike: Barbara Johns was the sixteen-year-old Junior who organized the student strike at R.R. Moton High School. On April 21st, 1951, she took to the stage of the school auditorium and spoke about the educational inequality that she and her classmates were subjected to. Her speech ended with a walkout and student strike that lasted two weeks. When the white Superintendent of Schools refused to respond to the students’ demands, Ms. Johns contacted NAACP attorney, Oliver Hill, and appealed to him for legal representation. The NAACP agreed to take the students’ case on the condition that they change their demand from equal facilities to the integration of public schools. Three years later, this case was combined with four other school desegregation cases as Brown v. the Board of Education. Your presentation will be given from the very stage where Barbara Johns stood when she called forth the student strike of 1951!
GROUP #2 = John Stokes and the 1951 Student Strike: John Stokes was the President of the Senior Class at R.R. Moton and a co-planner of the 1951 student strike. He was a leading voice on the strike committee and helped coordinate efforts to maintain the student movement in Farmville. He later served as a plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education. Following graduation, Mr. Stokes served two years in the U.S. Army, and then attended and graduated from Virginia State University. He went on to become a teacher and administrator in Baltimore City Public Schools. Mr. Stokes has dedicated his retirement to speaking about the Farmville student movement and Brown v. the Board of Education. This presentation will be given from the former site of the bleachers on the grounds of R.R. Moton High School where Barbara Johns first revealed her plan to John Stokes and his sister, Carrie.
GROUP #3 = The Vernon Johns Gravesite in Darlington Heights: Reverend Vernon Johns was Barbara Johns’ uncle. He was born in the Darlington Heights area of Prince Edward County in 1892. He became an accomplished and respected Baptist minister. His Christian principles greatly influenced his protests for civil rights, and many of his sermons addressed the immorality of segregation and discrimination. Despite false rumors of his involvement in the R.R. Moton student strike, he was likely a powerful influence over his niece, Barbara. This presentation will be given at his actual gravesite that is located on land that he once owned.
GROUP #4 = Reverend L. Francis Griffin and the First Baptist Church: Known as the “Fighting Preacher,” Leslie Francis Griffin was the Reverend of Farmville’s First Baptist Church. He strongly supported the Moton strike and met with the student leaders in the basement of his church. He also helped coordinate their efforts with the NAACP and later became the president of the Farmville chapter of this organization. Reverend Griffin became the undisputed leader of the black community as the student strike became a thirteen-year struggle for equal education. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described Griffin "as a giant among men" and "a modern social prophet." Prince Edward County Schools were finally forced to reopen on an integrated basis in 1964 as a result of the Supreme Court ruling in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County. Rev. Griffin later stated, "I'm certain that by remaining adamant through the long struggle, Prince Edward blacks saved public education in this nation." This presentation will be given at Reverend Griffin’s former pulpit – the First Baptist Church on the Main Street of Farmville.
GROUP #5 = NAACP Attorneys Oliver Hill & Spottswood Robinson: Oliver Hill and Spotswood Robinson were passionate civil rights attorneys who built careers battling segregation within their native state of Virginia. As law students at Howard University they had been classmates and colleagues of Thurgood Marshall. A month after the R.R. Moton student strike, Hill and Robinson filed the case of Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County. After defeats in state courts and Federal District Court, they appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case was later combined with four other school segregation cases, and it went before the Supreme Court in 1954 as “Brown v. the Board of Education.” This presentation will be given in Farmville’s First Baptist Church – the location of mass meetings that were held by the NAACP in order to build community support for the students’ case.
GROUP #6 = Massive Resistance and the Defenders of State Sovereignty: A segregationist group known as the “Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberty” was formed in Farmville, Virginia. This group was strongly supported by Senator Harry F. Byrd, and thousands of Defender memberships were filed throughout the state. The “Defenders” played a central role in raising the funds to construct the whites-only Prince Edward Academy in 1959. The Defenders actually took their name from the Confederate Soldiers Monument in Farmville (pictured on the left). This presentation will be given in front of the actual monument located on High Street across from Longwood University.
GROUP #7 = Dr. C.G. Gordon Moss and Longwood University: Dr. Moss was as a Professor of History at Longwood College in Farmville. He was the department chair from 1947 – 1960, and Dean of the Faculty from 1960 – 1964. Despite criticism from his Longwood colleagues and the Farmville community, Dr. Moss publicly criticized the school closings and spoke out in favor of integration. He declared, "I’ve been teaching American history for forty years. I’ve been teaching that democracy and social justice are the greatest ideals of the American nation. I’d be a traitor to the thousands of students I’ve taught if I didn’t take a stand for these ideals when the opportunity comes." This presentation will be given inside of Ruffner Hall on the campus of Longwood University. In addition to teaching classes in this building, it was also home to the History Department and Dr. Moss’s personal office.
GROUP #8 = The Light of Reconciliation: The school closures in Prince Edward County, Virginia represented the greatest resistance to public school integration in the history of the United States. An entire generation of black students were denied education for five years while segregationists established the Prince Edward Academy as a private school for whites. Despite the deep scars this inflicted upon the community, many black and white residents have recently sought to heal the tragic events of this troubling past. For example, R.R. Moton High School has been transformed into a civil rights museum that memorializes the student strike and the thirteen year struggle for an equal education. In 2009, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors that once closed schools, issued an apology and erected a “Light of Reconciliation” on top of the county court house. This presentation will be given on the very court house grounds where this apology is inscribed on a historic marker (pictured above).