April 17, 2003
The Robert R. Moton Museum: A Center for the Study of Civil Rights in Education will commemorate the fifty-second anniversary of the historic student strike at Moton High School next Wednesday, April 23. The Museum will be open to the public from 1:00 to 8:00 p.m. and will present a panel discussion at 7:00 that evening.
On April 23, 1951 (a Monday), young Barbara Johns led the students at Moton High School in a two-week-long strike to protest the woeful conditions at the all-black high school. A month later the students’ parents filed suit against the county to desegregate the public schools. The local case, Davis v. Prince Edward, was one of five combined in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954. In that case, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racially segregated public schools were inherently unequal and therefore unconstitutional. Because the Prince Edward case was the only one of the five which was initiated by direct student action, the strike, in the words of the Washington Post, “set in motion events that forever changed the landscape of American education, and arguably marked the start of the modern civil rights movement.”
In 1959, eight years after the student strike, five years after the Brown decision, Prince Edward County closed is public schools rather than desegregate them. The schools were closed for five years, leaving most of the county’s 1,700 black students with no formal education for that period. At 7:00 next Wednesday evening, three men who were students at the time of the closing will talk briefly and informally about the personal impact of that event. Rev. James Holcomb, Rev. Earl Townsend, and Rev. Hugo Womack will offer their insights, forty-four years after the event, into the long-term effects of the abolition of public education in Prince Edward. The public is invited; there is no admission fee.