The Robert Russa Moton Museum is located in Farmville Virginia (Prince Edward County) and is considered the birthplace of the student-led Civil Rights Movement in the USA. The museum is located at 900 Griffin Boulevard at South Main Street and is open Monday through Saturday from 12 noon to 4 PM. Admission is free and there is plenty of free parking.
The museum was the former Robert Russa Moton High School which is now a National Historic Landmark and a leading Civil Rights museum. The school was built in 1939 and named for the second principal of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama who grew up in Prince Edward County. A few days ago I heard a great program on National Public Radio (NPR) that covered the history of the Moton School student-led activism and if you get a chance to listen to it, it is quite inspiring.
The museum is a six-gallery exhibition that chronicles the stories of Prince Edward citizens as they moved their community and all America from a segregated to an integrated society between 1951 and 1964. As you follow the pathway through the museum it chronicles the events of students in photos and stories as they made history.
In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court established a “Separate but Equal” doctrine in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case. In 1939, Moton School was built for African-Americans and had a max capacity of 180 students. In the 1940’s, enrollment exceeded 450 students with some “tar paper” shacks to accommodate the overflow. A 17-year old student, Barbara Johns addressed her 450 students in the crowded auditorium and called for action to protest the overcrowding and inferior conditions. They lacked adequate heat in winter and roofs dripped water onto the students in class.
On April 23, 1951 the students walked out of school on a two-week strike and thus began the spark that would challenge and overcome the rule of segregation in U.S. education. The student strike resulted in the Davis vs. School Board of Education of Prince Edward County court case which later got included with other following cases in the famous Brown vs. Board of Education which in 1954 made segregated education unconstitutional by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Then in 1959, Prince Edward County board of supervisors voted to close all schools by not funding them rather than desegregate them.
Years later after fighting massive resistance to integration of schools in the State of Virginia, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy got personally involved with Prince Edward County resistance and got the free schools reopened in 1963. Moton School students lost many years of education and Barbara Johns was so ostracized that she moved to Alabama and stayed with relatives to finish her education.
A link to Barbara Johns bio is here …https://motonmuseum.org/learn/