In 1947, black students attended Moton High School in the town of Farmville in Prince Edward County, Va. Moton did not have enough room for its black students. The county government built three tar-paper shacks and temporary classrooms. The shacks had no real walls, only wooden structures covered by a heavy, black paper.
Moton's history teacher had to drive the school bus, too. His other duties included building wood fires in the tar-paper shacks to heat them. The wood fires didn't keep students warm. All winter, they studied wearing their coats.
Moton High School had no cafeteria and no lockers. Its science classes did not have even a single microscope. The buses that brought students to school were hand-me-downs given to Moton by the white high school when it got new buses. Black parents asked for new schools. The county promised the black principal a new school, but it never kept this promise.
In the spring of 1951, Barbara Johns was a 16-year-old junior in high school. Johns was a student council member, as was her brother John. Johns had had enough of hand-me-down buses and ramshackle schools. She talked to her brother, to the student council president Carrie Stokes, and to a few other students. Johns knew that action was difficult and dangerous. She and her friends met in secret. They gathered support slowly and did not tell any adults of their plans.
Johns said that since their elders had not been able to get a decent school, it was time for teens to take action. She told her friends that they would not get a new school for themselves because it would take a long time. Maybe, Johns said, they could get a decent school for their little brothers and sisters.