School Desegregation

What was the only public school desegregation case initiated by students?

Formed in the Virginia Colony in 1754, Prince Edward County is widely known as the subject of Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County. Students in the system were the only ones who initiated such a case. While the case was eventually incorporated into the NAACP-led Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the Virginia General Assembly still passed a series of laws in 1956 to implement massive resistance. Efforts to fend off potential litigation by the NAACP resulted in the founding of the all-black Robert Russa Moton High School in 1939, which lacked a gymnasium, cafeteria, and teachers’ restrooms. In 1951 the inadequate facilities, as well as repeated denials by the all-white school board to provide assistance, led Barbara Johns, niece of activist Reverend Vernon Johns, to lead a walkout in protest of the school’s conditions. In response, school officials refused to appropriate any funds for the county’s school board, effectively closing all of the county’s public schools. For five years, the county’s public schools remained closed until they were forced to reopen in 1963.


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