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Videos

VIDEO: Behind Brown v. Board — The Virginia Student Strike That Revolutionized American Education

October 28, 2019

The landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Oliver Brown, et al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka (KS), et al. declared “separate but equal” unconstitutional and forever changed the landscape of American education. But what has gone down in history as Brown v. Board was really a consolidated five cases from Delaware, Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C., and many of the untold stories of the hundreds of plaintiffs were lost behind the “et al.” of Brown, et al. Of those forgotten Brown cases, Virginia’s Davis v. County School Board was the only one that was student-led.

On April 23, 1951, Moton High School student Barbara Johns — fed up with the Farmville, Virginia, district officials’ ambivalence toward the black community’s demands for better and more equitable school conditions — orchestrated a meticulous plan that lured Principal M. Boyd Jones out of the building and gathered the student body in a surprise assembly. Johns made an impassioned speech against injustice, calling on her more than 450 classmates to protest until their demands for a new building and greater equity were met. The student body walked out of school after that assembly, beginning a two-week strike that led NAACP attorneys Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill to file Davis v. County School Board on behalf of the students a month later.

— Directed and Edited by James Fields, Produced by Emmeline Zhao