PECHS, Fuqua Students Marching Together

Published 4:37 pm Thursday, April 17, 2014

FARMVILLE — Students from Prince Edward County High School and Fuqua School will join together and commemorate the historic April 23, 1951 student walkout at R. R. Moton High School against separate and unequal conditions for black students.

The students will walk together next Wednesday morning from the Moton Museum to the lawn of Prince Edward County’s courthouse for a ceremony that will include remarks by Joan Johns Cobbs, the younger sister of Barbara Johns, who led the 1951 walkout that gave birth to the civil rights movement.

Students will begin their walk down the sidewalks along Main Street at 10:30 a.m. The program at the courthouse is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.

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The meaning of the event is lost on no one.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our community to come together as one,” said Fuqua School’s president, Ruth Murphy, who has been actively involved in the Moton Museum, having served on its board of directors and currently chairing the Moton Council’s governance committee.

Fuqua School was formerly Prince Edward Academy, founded as a private white-only school during Prince Edward County’s massive resistance to the US Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that separate public schools for black and white children were unconstitutional.

The Brown decision was based to a significant degree on Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, the student strike follow-up that saw Barbara Johns, her classmates, and their families fight segregated schools in a case filed shortly after the student strike, legal action that became one of five cases joined together by the Supreme Court.

The board of supervisors defunded public education in 1959, closing schools for five years until the Supreme Court ordered them in 1964 to levy a tax and operate a public school system.

Next Wednesday will be a great opportunity, Murphy continued, “For our young people to come together and to celebrate the progress we’ve made over the past 50 years.

Fuqua School has an open, non-discriminatory admissions policy that was begun before J. B. Fuqua purchased the school in the early 1990s. Prince Edward Academy desegregated, enrolling five African Americans, in 1986.

“And I think to have our students involved is particularly significant because that’s where it first began,” Murphy said, recalling Johns and her classmates.

Prince Edward County School Superintendent Dr. David Smith agrees.

“This commemoration is significant in the history of our community. It’s significant in the lives of our students also. The significance,” Dr. Smith said, “lies in helping students to more fully understand the conditions that gave rise to the initial walk-out and the events that were precipitated as a result of that.

“As a community,” he continued, “I think our long-term interest has to be focused on helping to make sure we understand why that happened at a point in our history and taking steps to ensure that history never repeats itself.”

Cobbs will be joined by two other speakers during the courthouse ceremony following the students’ walk Wednesday morning: former Moton students Edwilda Allen and Joy Carrabas Speakes.

The benediction will be delivered by the Reverend J. Samuel Williams, who was involved in the 1951 student strike and led the summer of 1963 demonstrations in Farmville against Prince Edward County’s policy of massive resistance and manifestations of Jim Crow segregation in town businesses and churches.

Looking forward to Wednesday’s commemoration and thinking about Barbara Johns, Murphy said, “I think the community still has a ways to go. I think all of us know that. But I think hope is always in our young people and I think Barbara Johns would be very, very pleased with the progress we’ve made and particularly that our kids are coming together and participating in such a meaningful event.”

Agreed Smith, “I think it’s a very appropriate activity…I think it’s significant in the lives of our students, and all students.”

Dorothy L. Holcomb was in fourth grade when Prince Edward County closed its public schools.

“The commemorative mark of the student ‘walkout’ is a visual reminder that some causes are worth fighting for just because it is the right thing to do,” observed Holcomb, who chairs the museum’s Moton Council.

Because of the creative perseverance of her family, particularly her father, Leonard Lockett, Holbomb was ultimately able to attend and graduate from the Appomattox County public school system, earning a full scholarship to attend and graduate from college.

“I believe that a young leader such as Barbara Johns,” she told The Herald, “was spiritually motivated to fight the way she so gallantly fought for educational equality in Prince Edward County.”

That spirit will be marching together on Wednesday.