Beyond Brown: Pursing the Promise
For the first half of the 20th century, schools in the American south were segregated by race. The Supreme Court had ruled that “separate, but equal” was the law of the land. But separate was never equal and segregation contradicted the very idea of American freedom. Segregated schools in the south were nothing more than dilapidated buildings which held more students than they were meant for. An example of one such school was the R.R. Moton High School in Prince Edward County Virginia. Even the textbooks they used were hand-me-downs from white schools.
High school teacher Edwilda Isaac remembers the condition of the books they were forced to use, “They were discards from the elementary and high schools, there were pages torn out of them, there were racist obscenities written in the books. By the time I got there in 1951, I think there were five temporary shacks used as classrooms. In some of the shacks, you had to hold your umbrella up to prevent the water leaking from the room from dripping on your papers.” John Stokes, a former student at Morton High School, recounts the conditions of the facilities he was forced to use. “As a freshman looks around and he sees a brick building for another race, and he has to walk by that brick building two miles to a school that is wooden and that school has an outdoor toilet and when he goes to that outdoor toilet, he looks and he sees maggots up there right where he had to sit; that is demeaning to another human being.”
In April of 1951, a small group of Moton students had decided to take matters into their own hands. They took over the school and called a rally. 16 year old Barbara Johns told the crowd, “The town jail is not big enough to hold all of us.” The entire student body went on strike. Then, the students went a step further, they called in the NAACP. Oliver Hill, who was a NAACP attorney at the time, recounts his interaction with Barbara Johns and the students of Morton High...