Moton Museum Completes Purchase Of Building From County

December 22, 2000

Courtesy of Farmville Herald – December 22, 2000

Robert Russa Moton Museum board of directors president, Thomas Mayfield, left, shares a happy moment with Prince Edward County board of supervisors chairman, Hunter R. Watson.The museum board had just completed purchase of the former R.R. Moton High School, giving the county a $100,000 check.

News Release – December 20, 2000

Christmas came early for supporters of the Robert R. Moton Museum. On December 20, after five years of concerted fund-raising efforts, backers of the new civil rights museum succeeded in completing the $300,000 purchase of the historic Robert R. Moton High School building from Prince Edward County. Thomas Mayfield, president of the museum’s board of directors, and Hugh Kennedy, treasurer, presented a check for $100,000 to Hunter R. Watson, chair of the county board of supervisors, to complete the purchase. Museum board members and supporters applauded as Watson accepted the final check.

The Moton building was the scene of a historic student strike in April 1951 which in effect marked the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Led by 16-year-old Barbara Johns, niece of civil rights pioneer Rev. Vernon Johns, the students at the all-black Moton High School staged a two-week strike to protest the separate and very unequal conditions under which they were forced to study. The school, which opened in 1939, had been designed to house 180 students; 12 years later, 450 students attended Moton. To accommodate the overflow, the county had built three “tarpaper shacks” beside the main brick building. Other resources at the school were also dramatically inadequate.

The student strike soon led to the filing of a suit by black parents against the county school board. Handled by NAACP attorneys Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill, the suit demanded not just equal facilities for black students, but the desegregation of the county’s public schools. That case was one of five bundled together in what became the Supreme Court’s most important ruling of the 20th century, Brown v. Board of Education . In that 1954 decision, the court struck down racial segregation in public schools as inherently unequal and hence unconstitutional.

The Moton building continued to be used as a school by the county until 1995. At that point the Martha E. Forrester Council of Women set out to purchase the school and turn it into a center for the study of civil rights in education. Two years later the Moton Museum was incorporated and an autonomous board established. In 1998 the Moton building was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Backers of the museum project worked tirelessly for five years to raise the $300,000 purchase price, getting $125,000 from the General Assembly, $25,000 in a grant from Virginia Power, and the remaining half from a large number of small donations. Museum volunteers praised the grassroots support which it has received from black and white contributors alike and expressed their delight at completing the purchase of the building. Said President Mayfield: “It’s one of the highlights of my life to be able to present this check to the county for the final payment on this building. Now we can go on to higher things.”

The Moton Museum has recently received a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities which will enable it to prepare and mount an exhibition of the school’s history. Formal opening of the museum for regular hours is scheduled for April 23, 2001-the fiftieth anniversary of the student strike.