High School Student Activism: Past and Present

Virginia Civil Rights Memorial

High School Activist Barbara Johns depicted by Virginia Civil Rights Memorial 

From AHA Today by Dionne Danns:

As a child, I always enjoyed watching Eyes on the Prize on PBS during Black History Month. I was fascinated both by the history of discrimination and the courageous efforts of young people to fight back against what seemed like insurmountable odds. The images of young children in Birmingham being sprayed by water hoses during peaceful protests, college students rising up on their campuses, and students desegregating schools inspired me. From participating in sit-ins to freedom rides to efforts to desegregate schools, students were on the frontlines of many of the civil rights protests. Even when they weren’t directly involved in the movement, the deaths of young people—Emmett Till in Mississippi, four girls in Alabama—helped spark or re-energize the Civil Rights Movement.

As I got older and completed my undergraduate and graduate studies, I learned more about how and why these student protests came to be—the organizing that took place, the variety of causes involved, and the diversity of participants. In 1951, for example, a 16-year-old student named Barbara Johns led a boycott protesting overcrowding at her school in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Her efforts culminated in Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County,which later became one of the Brown v. Board of Education cases. When segregation continued in many southern districts despite the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, black high school students, particularly after Freedom Summer in 1964, organized and demanded desegregation, a better education, voting rights, student rights, and an end to police brutality in Mississippi and throughout the South.

Read the rest of the article at AHA Today

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