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2009 News Releases

Longwood to observe MLK Day with panel discussion, reading of Barbara Johns’ diaries and Service Challenge

December 1, 2009

A panel discussion on educational equity will highlight Longwood University's annual celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Nurturing a Dream Into Reality: A Panel Discussion on Educational Equity & Your Role" will be held Thursday, Jan. 21, at 3:30 p.m. in Blackwell Auditorium for the Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium. Panelists will be Dr. Larissa Smith Fergeson, associate professor of history at Longwood; Lacy Ward Jr., director of the Robert Russa Moton Museum; and Darian Batten, a Longwood senior representing the Call Me MISTER program. 

Also as part of Longwood's observance of Dr. King's birthday, volunteers will take turns reading from the diary of Barbara Johns, leader of the historic 1951 walkout by students at R.R. Moton High School in Farmville, at noon Wednesday, Jan. 20, on the steps in front of Lankford Hall. Additionally, students will participate Monday, Jan. 18, in the MLK Service Challenge, in which they do community service projects in the Farmville community.

Although the panel discussion is free, those who plan to attend must pick up tickets in the office of Multicultural Affairs and International Student Services in room G26 in Lancaster Hall between Jan. 5-Jan. 20. Due to limited seating, people are urged to pick up tickets as soon as they become available beginning Jan. 5.

Among the panelists, Fergeson, whose research interests include African-American history and the civil rights movement, has published articles on Virginia civil rights lawyers and labor activists and is currently working on a book, titled Where the South Begins: The Civil Rights Struggle in Virginia, 1930-1960. She co-chaired Longwood's commemoration of the 50th anniversary in 2004 of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, has worked with local Southside communities to help them preserve the history of African-American schools during the era of segregation, and is currently working with the R.R. Moton Museum to help them develop content for their new permanent exhibit, scheduled to open in 2011.

Ward became the first director of the Moton Museum in April 2008. The museum, a center for the study of civil rights in education, is housed in what was the high school for African-American students in Prince Edward County during segregation. Ward was previously the first superintendent of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site and also has been a Tuskegee University vice  president, an aide to former Virginia congressmen Virgil Goode and L.F. Payne Jr., and a Navy flight officer who served in the 1991 Gulf War.

Batten, a liberal studies major from Suffolk, is in the inaugural class of Longwood's Call Me MISTER program. The teaching scholarship program, part of the College of Education and Human Services, seeks to recruit and prepare African-American males as elementary/middle school teachers in Virginia's public schools.

The reading of Barbara Johns' diary will honor the leader of the walkout at R.R. Moton High School on April 23, 1951, prompted by a protest of the segregated school's intolerable conditions. After the walkout, which turned into a  strike that lasted 15 days, Johns and fellow students contacted lawyers affiliated with the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, which agreed to take on their case if they would challenge segregation in public education directly, rather than suing to improve their segregated school. The lawsuit the NAACP filed on their behalf in federal court, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, became part of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that outlawed "separate but equal" facilities in public education. The Prince Edward suit was the only one of the five cases that comprised Brown v. Board of Education that was initiated by student protest.

The Moton student protest sparked the 13-year-old struggle to desegregate schools in Prince Edward County and is viewed as a bellwether of the youth-centered southern civil rights movement of the 1960s.

"This will be the first extended public reading of Johns' diary, which is currently unpublished,  so it will be a good opportunity to have insight into what inspired Johns and the challenges she faced," said Dr. Naomi Johnson, a Longwood faculty member who is coordinating the reading. "The diary has been generously supplied by the Moton Museum."

Eventually Johns moved to Philadelphia, graduated from Drexel University and became a librarian for the Philadelphia school system. She died in 1991 and is buried at Triumph Baptist Church in the Darlington Heights area of Prince Edward County.

In the MLK Service Challenge, it is expected there will be five to seven projects with 10 to 12 students at each site. Last year about 70 students participated in the Service Challenge at seven sites.

An information and curriculum support site about the Symposium, created by the Greenwood Library staff, is available at: