In 1951, she directed her fellow African American high school pupils in a walkout to protest the inequality of segregated schools. Societal activist Barbara Johns was born in New York in 1935. Johns grew up in Prince Edward County, Virginia. At that time, the schools were segregated. White pupils went to one set of schools while African Americans went to another. The states of the African American schools were considerably worse compared to whites-only schools. The building was meant for just about 150 pupils, but by the 1950s there were more than 400 students registered. The county’s all-white school board attempted to repair this issue by erecting three tarpaper buildings on school property, which were described by some as “chicken shacks.”?
In 1951, Johns took a stand from the unequal treatment of African American and white students in the county. The niece of the open minister, Vernon Johns, she bravely stood before her fellow pupils at an assembly and presented an impassioned address. She encouraged them to join her in a strike from the school system to induce them to make changes. Following her lead the pupils left the school in demonstration of overcrowding. This walkout was among the first of its type.
They consented to help having a suit directed at stopping racial segregation. A ninth grader named Dorothy E. Davis was the first named plaintiff in the case, but the suit really signified 117 pupils in all. The attorneys filed the suit in 1951. The next year, the U.S. District Court sided with the school board. For her part in the integration movement, Johns was harassed and apparently went to reside with relatives in Alabama after a cross was burned in her family’s lawn.
Even with the Supreme Court opinion, Prince Edward County as well as the state of Virginia resisted integration. The state passed a number of laws that superseded the court’s determination, enabling schools to not be made to incorporate. However Prince Edward County pressed on using its anti-integration attempts, shutting its schools rather than having black and white pupils make use of the exact same facilities. The schools stayed shut for five years, reopening in 1964.
Once in the middle of the public debate on segregation, Johns spent the remainder of her life from the media limelight. Dedicated to education, she became a school librarian and married Rev. William Powell. The couple had five children together. She expired in 1991. To this day, Barbara Johns is remembered for her part in the struggle against school segregation. She revealed the world through her activities that one man could be a power for change. Johns continues to be honored in her home state.