You've come to the place for information about Barbara Rose Johns, an unsung heroine of the Civil Rights Movement.
Before Rosa Parks, before the Little Rock Nine, even before Martin Luther King, Jr. embraced nonviolent protest as a means to bring about social change, sixteen-year-old Barbara Rose Johns led her classmates in a strike to protest unfair conditions of her high school. The conditions in her high school were deplorable. To house the overflow of students, tar paper shacks were used as classrooms. The shacks leaked in the rain and were heated by pot-bellied stoves. The all-white high school across town was much better maintained.
Fed up with the situation, Barbara devised a plan. On April 23, 1951, Barbara led her classmates in a strike. Her strike eventually turned into a lawsuit against the county, and became part of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, the case which desegregated schools in the United States.
From Taylor Branch, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, Barbara's contribution to the Civil Rights movement has been largely overlooked because she was a teenager:
". . the schoolchild origins of the lawsuit were lost as well on nearly [everyone] outside Prince Edward County. ... The idea that non-adults of any race might play a leading role in political events had simply failed to register on anyone — except perhaps the Klansmen who burned a cross in the Johns' yard one night, and even then people thought their target might not have been Barbara but her notorious firebrand uncle."
(Note that Taylor Branch got a few details wrong. Barbara's family home was burned to the ground. The cross was burned on the school grounds of the Robert Moton High School.)
From Christopher B. Howard, President of Hampden-Sydney College:
"When Barbara Johns and her fellow Moton High School students challenged the deplorable and unequal conditions they daily confronted in their school in April, 1951, they set in motion a remarkable chain of events that culminated in the end of racial segregation in America."
General Mark Earley, Attorney General, Virginia:
"In a very real way, and in a way that is not an exaggeration, the Civil Rights Movement was born on a spring day in Prince Edward County at Moton High School."
From Ruth Murphy, President, Fuqua School, Farmville, Virginia
"There are few historical events that have helped shape American culture more than the 1951 student walkout in Prince Edward County. In teaching the history of this event to our students, Fuqua School focuses on four lessons we believe are central to the event itself and to our subsequent collective experience: change can be brought about through focused, deliberate action, event through the action of young people; idealism energy, passion and commitment are qualities that empower leaders; institutional change, while complex, is possible; dialogue opens doors to understanding that can bring people together.
From Patrick Finnegan, President, Longwood University, Farmville, Virginia
"The Moton students of 1951 epitomize citizen leaders and serve as shining examples to our students of how ordinary citizens have the power to create extraordinary change in our democracy."