The Girl from the Tar Paper School
written by Teri Kanefield
2014 (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
Source: Orange County Public Library
“When it rained, the roofs leaked. Buckets collected the dripping water. Some students sat under umbrellas so the ink on their papers wouldn’t run. The makeshift classrooms, like the regular classrooms, were heated by potbellied wood stoves instead of furnaces.”
In 1950, fifteen-year-old Barbara Johns lived on a farm located about 15 miles from Farmville, Virginia. She attended Robert R. Moton High School, a school for black students that had many temporary classrooms built to house an overflow of students. These classrooms were made of wood and covered with tar paper. Teachers would have to tend to the fire in the stoves and hope that the smoke wouldn’t interrupt their unevenly heated classrooms. Meanwhile, the school for white students had a modern heating system along with other amenities that Moton students could only dream about.
Black students and their parents were told to be patient by the white school board. A new school was going to be built to replace Moton High. Patience will only last so long, and Barbara’s had worn out. With a plan that she felt was divinely inspired, Barbara led her classmates to stage a peaceful strike to protest the unequal conditions. On April 23, 1951, an assembly of students met in the auditorium. After creating a distraction for the principal to go to town, Barbara led a students-only assembly. She gave a stirring speech that explained that they deserved to have a school that was equal in quality to the whites-only high school in Farmville. A two week long strike led to a lawsuit against the Prince Edward County school board that eventually went to the Supreme Court and joined four other cases that were consolidated into Brown v. Board of Education.
Barbara Rose Johns was an unsung heroine who had the courage to stare injustice in the face and not blink. She stood her ground and her actions, along with her fellow classmates, helped lead to the eventual desegregation of public schools. The Girl from the Tar Paper School, as stated in previous reviews, is an important work that should be read by students studying the Civil Rights movement. Readers will learn about the sacrifices made by these students and their families.