Robert Russa Moton High School was constructed in 1939. It stood as a one-story, simply designed brick building containing eight classrooms, an office, and an auditorium. Moton High was typical of the all-black schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia, during the period. The school only accepted as many students as it was designed for and had no gym or cafeteria. To no surprise, the highest-paid teacher at Moton earned less than the lowest paid white teacher in the county.
In April 1951, young Barbara Johns who was 16 year-old at the time decided to take action. She got someone to call the school’s principal and ask him to go to the bus terminal on the pretext of picking up two truants. While he was gone, she convinced the students to go on strike the following day to demand a better school. A NAACP organizer convinced the parents of the striking students that the strike would succeed only if the students attacked segregation head-on, through the courts.
Although in 1953, the NAACP lost Davis v. The County School Board of Prince Edward County in a federal district court it won the suit a year later in the Supreme Court through Brown v. Board of Education.
The Commonwealth of Virginia led the “massive resistance” movement against the Supreme Court decision by threatening to close its public schools. The schools in Prince Edward County were closed from 1959 to 1964, making it the only county in the nation to close its public schools for an extended period to avoid desegregation. The walkout, led by 16-year-old Barbara Johns, is one of the great stories in the struggle for civil rights.