Protest Sign at Robert Russa Moton High School
On April 23, 1951, students at Robert Russa Moton High School in the town of Farmville, in Prince Edward County, walked out of school to protest the conditions of their education, which they claimed were vastly inferior to those enjoyed by white students at nearby Farmville High School. The strike, led by student Barbara Johns, is considered by many historians to signal the start of the desegregation movement in America and resulted in a court case that was later bundled with other, similar cases into Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Brown by mandating public-school desegregation, and Virginia state leaders responded with an official policy of Massive Resistance. When, on January 19, 1959, both a federal and a state court simultaneously ruled the state's actions unconstitutional, the Prince Edward County School Board closed its public schools rather than integrate them. They stayed shuttered for five years. Another U.S. Supreme Court decision— Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward—finally forced the county's schools to reopen in 1964.