Tar Paper Shacks
“Tar Paper Shacks” takes a step back in time from the moment of the Strike speech to give the visitor sufficient background information necessary to understand the conditions and reasons that led the students to go on strike. Virginia’s Constitution of 1870 establishing public education, the 1896 Plessy decision, the construction of the Moton High School, overcrowding, the Tar Paper Shacks, the bus accident of March 1951, and other occurrences which set the stage for the Student Strike are explored.
As the visitor enters the gallery they will first encounter the legal and political basis for our country’s ideal of equality and their translation into law and educational policy. The setting of Farmville 1951 will be contrasted with a reconstructed portion of a Tar Paper Shack (TPS) within the classroom. Along the way, visitors will be introduced to key individuals that played significant roles in advancing the exhibit narrative (Robert Russa Moton, W.E.B. Dubois, Martha Forrester, T.J. McIllwaine). The national context will be presented through interpretive panels discussing the Conditions Assessment on Race and Truman’s desegregation of the military as well as the creation of the Iron Curtain marking the beginning of the Cold War.
The visitor will then enter the Tar Paper Shack and will get a sense for the conditions that existed in these school rooms in 1951. The visitor steps through the door of the TPS and onto a platform of floor board planks removing them from the sense that they are still in the Museum. At the far end wall, the visitor will see a full size photomural of the interior of the shacks showing students in the classrooms. Voices of student interviews describing the conditions they experienced in the Tar Paper Shacks will be heard throughout the Tar Paper Shack classroom. The temperature inside the TPS will be colder than the rest of the exhibit rooms with the centerpiece of shack being an original pot belly stove, piped to the exterior. The area around the stove will be heated contrasting with the cool air surrounding it to provide the visitor with a sensory reference to the extreme conditions that existed in the shacks in 1951. A pattern of desks will be referenced on the floor helping the visitor to understand the spacial arrangement of a portion of the TPS classroom. The visitor will exit the TPS and step from the plank floor back to the Museum floor and will cross an image of railroad tracks on the floor as they meet the four Moton students that were killed at the railroad crossing due to inadequate buses just one month prior to the Strike.
As the visitor looks forward, a large “Strike” graphic terminates the view and leads the visitor on to the next area of the gallery dedicated to the events that took place in the month after the Strike leading to the filing of the Davis v. Prince Edward County School Board court case on May 23, 1951. Barbara Johns is introduced here as well as the NAACP and the attorneys that come to Farmville to take on the student’s case. The visitor will see the intense strategic development that takes place in just one month following the strike and will transition into the next gallery, Davis v. Prince Edward at the moment that the court case is filed.