Visitors to the Robert R. Moton Museum will notice the signs of construction around the 65-year-old building. With the help of a major grant from the Save America’s Treasures program and matching funds a total of $400,000 the restoration of the former school began in the fall of 2003.
Thanks to a grassroots effort which began in 1994, the Moton Museum is being created in the historic Moton High School building, a National Historic Landmark. The school was the site of a historic strike against separate but unequal conditions by 450 African-American students in April 1951. That strike led to the filing of Davis v. Prince Edward a month later, a suit which became one of five grouped together in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision of 1954 and 1955. Of the five suits from five different states included in Brown, only the Prince Edward suit was set in motion by direct student action more than four and a half years before Rosa Parks’s heroic action in Montgomery, almost nine years before the famous student sit-ins began in Greensboro.
The old Moton School building was used by Prince Edward County as an elementary school until 1995. As its use by the county was coming to an end, the Martha E. Forrester Council of Women determined to buy the building and turn it into a civil rights museum.
After more than five years of fund-raising, members of the Moton Museum project succeeded in purchasing the building from Prince Edward County in December 2000. Following a plan for developing the Museum which had been drafted by the National Park Service, supporters managed to make minimal repairs to the old school and, with a grant from the Virginia Humanities Foundation, to mount exhibits and formally open the Museum on April 23, 2001‹the fiftieth anniversary of the student strike.
The most pressing need at that point was to secure the physical integrity of the building particularly to stop leaks through the original raised-seam tin roof. In September 2001 the Moton Museum won a grant of $200,000 from the Save America’s Treasures program, which required the Museum to raise a matching amount from non-federal sources. Save America’s Treasures, established in 1998, is a public-private partnership between the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service, designed to celebrate and preserve “our nation’s threatened cultural treasures.”
Much of the $200,000 to match the Save America’s Treasures grant was raised from small donations to the Museum during 2001-2003. Three major grants enabled the Museum to reach its goal: $75,000 from Prince Edward County, $25,000 from Dominion Virginia Power, and $25,000 from Wachovia Bank. With the full $400,000 in hand, restoration of the Moton building began in the early fall of 2003.
The first phase of renovation, consisting of a new roof and other external repairs, has recently been completed. Historically accurate design of the renovation has been done by Wiley and Wilson Architects of Richmond and Lynchburg, actual reconstruction by Robertson Construction Company of Lynchburg. The second phase, which will involve the removal of asbestos and installation of a new heating-ventilation-air conditioning system, will take place during the first half of 2004, as the nation celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board. “We’ve still got a lot more repairs to make, and things to restore the building to its state in 1951,” says Carl U. Eggleston, president of the Moton Museum board of directors. “We’ll be looking for more funding almost right away. But the building’s membranes are virtually intact now, so it will not suffer any damage from the elements. That $400,000 is literally making it possible for us to save one of America’s historic treasures, this great old building. And the timing could not be better, as we prepared to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Brown on May 17.”