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THE GIRL FROM THE TAR PAPER SCHOOL

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 6 years ago

21 November 2013 THE GIRL FROM THE TAR PAPER SCHOOL: BARBARA ROSE JOHNS AND THE ADVENT OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT by Teri Kanefield, Abrams, January 2014, 56p., ISBN: 978-1-4197-0796-4 

 

"You should see what a lovely, lovely world this'd be

Everyone learns to live together"

-- The Rascals "People Got To Be Free" (According to Wikipedia, after releasing this song in 1968, the Rascals refused to perform at concerts that didn't also feature an African American band.)

 

Once upon a time, there was a town in Virginia with two high schools.  One high school in 

Farmville was for black kids:

 

"Moton High was a squat brick building nestled in a fork of Route 15.  Alongside the school were temporary classrooms built to accommodate an overflow of students.  The structures were made of wood covered with heavy paper coated with tar.  The students called them chicken coops.  The tar paper shacks were Barbara's problem.  They didn't appear to be temporary. 

"When it rained, the roofs leaked.  Buckets collected the dripping water.  Some students sat under umbrellas so the ink on their papers wouldn't run.  The makeshift classrooms, like the regular classrooms, were heated by potbellied wood stoves instead of furnaces.  Students sitting near the stoves were too hot.  Students sitting farther away from the stoves shivered in their coats, hats, scarves, and gloves.  As a result, they frequently got sick.  Teachers had to stop their lessons to stoke the fire.  Smoke often eddied into the room instead of going up the chimney, causing sneezing and watery eyes."

 

The other high school in Farmville was for white kids:

 

"Farmville High...had modern heating, and industrial-arts shop, locker rooms, an infirmary, a cafeteria, and a real auditorium complete with sound equipment."

 

In 1951, when this story begins, Moton High School student Barbara Rose Johns persuaded all of her schoolmates to leave their classrooms and refuse to continue attending school under such conditions.  At first, Barbara's vision was to exert sufficient pressure upon the white school board to compel them to build a school for black students that was comparable to the white school.  (This is back in the day when America still labored under the separate-but-equal dictate of the U.S. Supreme Court's idiotic 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision that had upheld state segregation laws.)  But when the NAACP got involved, they insisted that this be part of the fight to end school segregation.  The black community of Farmville attended mass meetings and agreed with the NAACP.

 

What was the white folks' reaction to all this?  Duh.  Could it be more predictable?  They burned a cross, of course!  And they told the black students that their parents would all lose their jobs.  And they scolded the blacks for being impatient.  And one of them white folks threatened Barbara's life, so her parents sent her away to Montgomery Alabama to live with her preacher uncle and finish high school there.  (Her uncle was pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, a name that might ring a bell, given who her uncle's successor was.)

 

But the case of the Moton High students against the school board went forward in Barbara's absence and eventually became one of the cases that was part of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

 

You'd better believe that THAT decision really pissed off the white folks in Farmville.  They remembered very well who started all this trouble, so they burned down Barbara's parents' house.  (Of course, nobody saw who did it.  Musta been an act of God...) And they closed all of the public schools in the county so they wouldn't have to integrate for years to come.

 

Meanwhile, Barbara Rose Johns raised a family and then went back to school and became a school librarian.

 

This is a moving, true, well-documented story about America.     

 

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
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