The efforts of African American students at Robert Russa Moton High School in Prince Edward County to achieve equal educational opportunities led to the end of legal segregation in the public schools of America. Built to house 180 students, the R.R. Moton High School held 450, with some classes conducted in "tar-paper shacks." On April 23, 1951, a group of students led by Barbara Johns (niece of minister and prominent Civil Rights leader Vernon Johns) walked out to protest unequal and inadequate facilities, course offerings, and buses. They proceeded to the County Courthouse, planning to meet with the School Superintendent. Within weeks the students sought legal redress of their grievances.
The Reverend L. Francis Griffin, chairman of Moton’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA), asked National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) attorneys and Richmond natives Oliver Hill and Spottswood W. Robinson III to visit Prince Edward County. Hill and Robinson told the students that they would assist them if their parents sued for the abolition of segregation instead of just for equal facilities.
The subsequent case, Davis et al. v. County School Board of Prince Edward, was decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1954 in its landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision, which stated that "in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place." A second Brown decision in 1955 mandated that integration be achieved "with all deliberate speed." Rather than integrate its public schools, Prince Edward County withheld funds for all public education. As a result, all of the County's public schools were closed from 1959 until 1964, when the Supreme Court ruled in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County that localities must fund and operate public schools. Today Prince Edward's fully integrated public schools bear the legacy of a fight for civil rights in education that began on this site with a courageous, non-violent act by a group of high school students which resulted in three historic United States Supreme Court rulings.
Robert Russa Moton (1867 - 1940) was an African American educator and author who served as an administrator at the Hampton Institute and was the principal of the Tuskegee Institute from 1915 to 1935.
The former Robert Russa Moton High School was purchased from Prince Edward County in 1999 by the Robert Russa Moton Museum board of directors for $100,000 and converted to a museum.
A new permanent exhibition, “The Moton School Story: Children of Courage” , opened on April 29th, 2013. Designed by Petersburg-based StudioAmmons, the exhibition begins with the April 1951 strike against separate, but unequal conditions at Farmville’s R.R. Moton High School, leading to the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Virginia’s “Massive Resistance” to school desegregation follows, leading to Prince Edward County's closure of all public schools from 1959 until 1964. In the final gallery, visitors encounter the 1963-64 Kennedy Administration-supported Free School system, and finally the Supreme Court’s 1964 Griffin decision reopening county schools, ensuring free desegregated education for all.
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900 Griffin Boulevard