Legacy of courage
Barbara Johns Day, celebrated April 23, became a holiday in the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2018. Johns and dozens of students at Robert Russa Moton High School exemplified an extraordinary amount of courage when they organized a student walk-out to protest inequity and deteriorating conditions of the school.
The school did not have the capacity to contain the number of students who were enrolled, and an extension was a tar paper shack that became hot in the summer and cold in the winter. This is only an example of the ways the conditions of the facility contrasted to the more fully funded all-white school in the county at that time.
Weeks before the walk-out, a bus accident claimed the lives of five people. Johns’ courage, particularly in the face of opposition from county authorities and concern from parents and instructors, led to Johns and her classmates being at the center of the only student-led case within Brown v. Board of Education, called Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County.
The fight to maintain racial inequality continued when Prince Edward officials voted to close public schools in 1959.
The Moton Museum has, for decades, kept Johns’ legacy alive through outreach and presentations to elementary, middle and high schools throughout Virginia to show the impact that young people can have on history.
In the spirit of celebrating Johns and the historical shift the Moton students began with the walk-out. Take time to support the Moton Museum by visiting its website, www.motonmuseum.org, and by visiting its new exhibit and the wall of names of those affected by the public school closures.
There are a number of youth-led organizations to support, such as the nonprofit Fresh Boyz Club at http:// www.facebook.com/boysclub2008.
The public schools in our region as well as the teachers and students could always use support.
Our role, as members of the community, can be to advocate for our youth, to support them along the way, to help create change that will lead to a better life for generations to come.