Earlier this month, members of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ program staff had the
opportunity to visit the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville, Virginia.  The site is a National Historic Landmark and describes itself as “the student birthplace of America’s Civil Rights Movement.”
The Moton Museum explores the strike in 1951 that was incorporated into the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education case declaring that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”  One of five cases incorporated into Brown, Virginia’s was the only one to be entirely initiated by high school students.  It was 16-year-old Barbara Johns who was the driving force behind the student walkout to protest overcrowding and poor conditions in R.R. Moton High School.
In response to the Brown decision, Prince Edward County closed their public schools from 1959-1964 to avoid integration.  Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy stated at the time that “the only places on earth not to provide free public education are Communist China, North Vietnam, Sarawak, Singapore, British Honduras – and Prince Edward County, Virginia.”
The Moton Museum grapples with the residue of this period authentically and comprehensively.  Content is arranged in six sections, all in the refurbished R.R. Moton High School:

  • Gallery I: A Call To Action (April 23, 1951 Moton Student Strike)
  • Gallery II: Living Separate But Unequal (Tar Paper Shacks)
  • Gallery III: The Court Speaks (Davis vs. Prince Edward)
  • Gallery IV: Virginia Responds (Massive Resistance)
  • Gallery V: Prince Edward County Says No (They Closed Their Schools)
  • Gallery VI: Rebirth (Bound For Freedom)

This is a story that needs to be told.  There is so much we can learn both from the powerful example of Barbara Johns and her classmates standing up for what was right, as well as the painful legacy of the school closings.  Both helped shaped the present for Prince Edward County… and our entire nation.

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