Center for Rhetoric in Society

Investigate. Narrate. Engage.

The Barbara Johns Equality in Education Project

Visitors viewing a museum exhibitIn 1951, Barbara Rose Johns, a student at R.R. Moton High School in Farmville, VA, organized a student strike to protest the unequal and inadequate conditions at her school. Moton High School was the county’s all-black high school under the mandate of “separate but equal.”

The case that ensued, Davis v. Prince Edward County, became part of the Brown v. Board of Education case. Although historians have written numerous times about the strike and its aftermath, we are focusing on the leadership of Barbara Johns and approaching her story from a rhetorical perspective. Our projects include:

  • A rhetorical biography that studies the factors influencing Barbara to become a powerful and influential speaker
  • A digital educational module that will serve to expand lessons about Brown v. Board and Massive Resistance in Virginia with information and exercises about the Moton High School strike and the role of students in the Civil Rights Movement
  • Achildren’s book that explores how the actions of one young person can spark larger social change, serving as exemplar for others

This project and associated research are supported by funding from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, as well as the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

In Progress

  • Mooney, Jen, and Kelly Belanger. A Quiet Firebrand: The Inspiring Story of Barbara Johns.

Recent Presentations

  • Belanger, Kelly, and Jen Mooney. “’Something Had to be Done’: A Story of Girls, Women, and Collective Action in Virginia’s Civil Rights Struggle.” Virginia Tech Department of English Faculty Colloquy/Women’s Month Presentation. 27 March 2013.
  • Belanger, Kelly, and Jen Mooney. “New Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement: A Virginia Tech Workshop for Teachers.” 21 February 2013.
  • Mooney, Jen. “Visually Mapping Social Activism for a Broad Audience: Barbara Johns and the 1951 Moton High School Strike.” International Visual Literacy Association Annual Conference. 11 October 2012.