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The world of nonfiction picture books never ceases to amaze me; I always feel as though I am learning something fascinating and important when I make my selections from this section of our town’s public library. This was certainly the case with The Girl From the Tar Paper School : Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement.
Here’s the jacket copy:
In 19151 Barbara Johns and her high school classmates in Virginia had grown tired of attending classes in “tar paper shacks” – makeshift wooden buildings covered in tar paper. The white school board kept promising the black community a new high school equal to the whites-only school across town, but the temporary shacks were growing permanent. So Barbara led the students in a peaceful boycott to draw attention to the conditions of their school.
Although ridiculed the school board, local newspapers, and others, and even after a cross was burned on school grounds, Barbara and her classmates held firm and did not give up. Her school’s case, championed by NAACP, went all the way to the Supreme Court and helped outlaw segregation as part of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954.
I knew nothing about Barbara Johns, and found both her story as well as the plight of segregated schools in the African-American community to be deeply moving. Barbara’s courage is all the more remarkable because she was so young, and because she had all the powers that be aligned against her. What she did have going for her was the courage of her convictions, and the support of her family. The Girl From the Tar Paper School tells Barbara’s story through interviews, photographs, diary entries and letters. We learn about the ways in which communities dealt with the evils of segregation, and the many acts of daily defiance with which they fought back in order to preserve what they could of their dignity and humanity. It was also sobering to learn that, for all the brave efforts and legal victories, the white people of Prince William County were so opposed to integration that they would rather shut public schools down and consign poor children to illiteracy than open their doors to people of all races. It was not until 1980 that Barbara’s school was reopened as a fully functioning high school for all in the community.
Here’s a link to a series of documentaries about Barbara Johns and the issues faced by the tar paper schools:
And here is a clip from PBS documentary about Civil Rights as it relates to Barbara Rose Johns:
The Girl From the Tar Paper School : Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement would be an important addition to any classroom or school library.