A National Historic Landmark and the student birthplace of Civil Rights in Education in America, Robert Russa Moton High School is located in Prince Edward County, Virginia. The school was named after an educator from Amelia County who succeeded Booker T. Washington as principle of the famed Tuskegee Institute.

In 1951 16-year-old Barbara Johns, a student at Moton and the neice of civil rights activist Vernon Johns, proved that one person can make a difference by instigating a student strike that produced three-fourths of the plaintiffs in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. This decision struck down the 'separate but equal' doctrine of the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling of 1896 on the grounds that separate was 'inherently unequal' and ordered the end of school segregation in the United States with 'all deliberate speed.'

Moton High School was a dilapidated and underfunded school for African American children in Farmville. Moton was overcrowded, and the teachers were paid a fraction of what their counterparts earned at the high school for white students. Moton lacked basic facilities such as a gym, infirmary, cafeteria, and auditorium. When the school became hopelessly overcrowded, the white school board erected 'tar paper shacks' as classrooms. The white school board in Prince Edward spent $1,679 per year per white student, yet spent only $306 per year per black student. Moton High School lacked proper science labs and athletic fields, and there were no shops for industrial arts vocational training.

robert mussa moton museum

Outrage over the conditions intensified when Moton's old school bus broke down on a railroad crossing and five students were killed when the bus was struck by an oncoming train. One of those killed was a friend of young Barbara Johns. The striking students enlisted the help of the NAACP in filing a suit to end segregation. That case, Dorothy E. Davis, et al. versus County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia, filed in 1952, was heard by the Supreme Court along with four other cases against school boards in South Carolina, Washington D.C., Delaware, and Kansas that were collectively referred to as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The 1954 Brown decision marked the end of the doctrine of 'separate but equal' in the United States.

In 1956 the Commonwealth of Virginia commenced 'Massive Resistance' rather than the 'deliberate speed' ordered by the Supreme Court ruling and went so far as to close public schools for five years in order to avoid integration. During this time, 'segregation academies' were created for white students who were given government grants to attend them. Black students were left with no access to public education. In 1959 the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ordered that the schools be re-opened as integrated schools - yet Prince Edward County cut the school budget to $0, effectively closing the public schools. Schools were also closed in Front Royal and Warren County, Charlottesville and Norfolk while a plan was worked on to cause a reversal of the Supreme Court Decision.

The schools were closed for five years, and during this time African American students were forced to forego their education or seek it elsewhere in makeshift schools or by moving away to live with relatives. In 1964 the Supreme Court ended Massive Resistance and ordered the schools to reopen in the Griffin v. Prince Edward decision declaring that the time for ‘deliberate speed’ had expired. Some segregation academies did persist, however, despite the ruling until their tax-exempt status was finally revoked by the Internal Revenue Service.

Robert Russa Moton Museum preserves and interprets the history of Civil Rights in Education in Prince Edward County. The museum is open to the public weekdays and Saturdays. The modern, well-organized galleries contain fascinating, multi-media exhibits documenting this powerful period of American history. Located in historic downtown Farmville, Moton hosts specials events and features a staffed museum shop.

Pictured at the top: Exhibits at Moton Museum tell the inspiring story of Prince Edward County students who made a difference.

robert mussa moton museum

For every dollar spent per white student in Prince Edward County, each black student received 19 cents.

robert mussa moton museum

The Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren handed down the decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ending the doctrine of 'separate but equal.'

robert mussa moton museum

To avoid integration, the Commonwealth of Virginia embarked on a campaign of 'Massive Resistance' and went so far as to close schools rather than integrate.

robert russa moton museum

Today, Moton High School serves as the home of Robert Russa Moton Museum that documents this powerful period of American history.

Historical Photo

moton davis plaintiffs

Young Dorothy is standing front and center in this photo of the plaintiffs in Dorothy E. Davis, et al. versus County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia.