A movie company recently recreated the historic April 23, 1951 scenes in which 16-year-old Barbara Johns led fellow students at Robert Russa Moton High School in a ruse to get the principal out of the school, then summoned her classmates to the auditorium for a discussion on the inferior conditions they endured.
That auditorium assembly culminated in a two-week strike by the students, and eventually led to the Prince Edward case being included in the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling striking down segregated education.
The former high school is now the Robert Russa Moton Museum. The scenes were recreated during filming Saturday, Sept. 26, that prompted the day-long closure of the museum.
Ken Roy, a producer and official with Petersburg’s New Millennium Studios said the 8 to10 minute film will be shown at the museum to visitors.
“It’s very unusual we ever get to do a historical recreation in the place where the event occurred,” Roy said. “It’s a real treat.”
Tim Reid, well known actor and founder of New Millennium Studios, directed the film.
Calvin and Birdie Jamison looked on with pride as their daughter, Courtney Jamison, a 16-year-old student at the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School in Richmond, played Barbara Rose Johns.
“We are thrilled and excited this story is being told in this fashion and hope that thousands of people have the opportunity to visit the museum,” Birdie Jamison said.
Tim Reid approached Courtney Jamison after seeing her in a center stage performance.
Courtney said she was not familiar with Barbara Johns and Reid encouraged her to research and learn how Johns and other students at the school decided to take action against the inferior conditions at their school.
“I was really inspired,” Courtney said. “Being the same age as her, it really inspired me.”
Courtney is one of 40 students cast to appear in the movie, all the rest of whom attend Prince Edward High School, Longwood University or Hampden-Sydney College.
Amber Harvin, a 15-year-old sophomore at Prince Edward High School is portraying Student No. 4. Her only line: “What if we go to jail?”
“It’s so great,” Harvin said. “It’s a great opportunity. I think it’s really special how they let students from our school do something like this, and the play has such meaning to me. It’s a great honor.”
Christopher Jackson, a 15-year-old Prince Edward High School student, portrays Hodges Brown, one of Johns’ confidants. “It’s a great opportunity playing the people who have changed history,” Jackson said.
In the style of the time, the female students wore dresses and the males wore sweaters and khaki pants during filming.
“This is so wonderful,” said Barbara Holt as she watched the youths walk by. “That is exactly how we dressed. This is so terrific.”
Holt was among the Prince Edward youths denied an education when the county’s supervisors cut off funding to the school system rather than desegregate.
Holt was in the 10th grade when the schools closed. The next year, her mother drove her to Lunenburg County where she finished the 11th grade. But then her mother died.
“That was the end of my education,” Holt said. “It just took away my life.”
Holt’s granddaughter is among the youths appearing in the movie, and Holt said the production is a good thing. “It will keep the memory alive,” she said.
The mission of the Moton Museum is to preserve and positively interpret the history of Civil Rights in Education, specifically as it relates to Prince Edward County and the role its citizens played in America’s struggle to move from a segregated to an integrated society.
Moton was the site of the April 23, 1951 student walkout in protest of inferior educational facilities led by 16-year-old sophomore Barbara Johns. The Moton strike launched Prince Edward County’s 13-year struggle for Civil Rights in Education and resulted in the filing of Davis v. Prince Edward, which called for an end to racial segregation in public education. Davis was decided, along with four other cases, in the Supreme Court decisions Brown v. Board (1954) and Brown II (1955).
The Moton Museum is located in the former R. R. Moton High School at 900 Griffin Boulevard, Farmville, Virginia. The lecture and book signing is free of charge and open to the public. For additional information, please telephone 434–315-8775.