The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the advent of The CivilRights Movement
by Teri Kanefield
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
In 1950, fifteen-year-old Barbara Rose Johns was sick and tired of the horrible conditions she and other black students endured attending the Robert R. Moton High School. Nothing more than tar paper shacks, the buildings were called “the chicken coops. The roof leaked when it rained. Some students sat under umbrellas so the ink on their papers wouldn’t run. Potbellied wood stoves instead of furnaces heated the makeshift classrooms. Students sitting near the stove were too hot; those farther away too cold. Joan asked herself, why couldn’t the black students attend Farmville High School with its superior facilities?
Teri Kanefield writes a very readable narrative that is part biography, part social history, recounts the courageous actions of the high school student whose act of rebellion is credited with starting the modern civil rights movement. The author's use of historical images and photographs that have never before been published perfectly complements the text. Back matter includes an author’s note, timeline of selected important events in Civil Rights, endnotes, sources, and index.
Barbara was described as smart, yet quiet. Yet, her classmates were eager to participate in her strike that began at eleven o’clock on Monday, April 23, 1951 during a regularly scheduled assembly.
Barbara gave a speech that students later described as electrifying and inspiring. She talked about the appalling conditions at their school and the inability of the PTA and others to secure better facilities. She said the students had the right to equal facilities, and it was clear that nothing would happen unless the students banded together and took action.
The NAACP supported the strike and the case went to the Supreme Court. Though things did not go as hoped, the strike helped outlaw segregation in the famous court decision (Brown vs Board of Educaiton) that declared segregation of schools unconstitutional.
I found the quiet courage of Barbara Johns a real page-turner. To think that she had the fortitude to stage a nonviolent protest years before Rosa Park refused to give up her seat on the segregated bus is inspiring. What I also liked was the fact that after finishing high school, Barbara quietly faded from the public. She raised a family and, after acquiring a bachelor’s degree in library science in 1979, worked for twenty-four years as a school librarian. She passed away in 1991.
The Girl from the Tar Paper School is an excellent addition to the wealth of titles about The Civil Rights Movement. I recommend this book for all libraries and be sure to include it in displays for Black History Month, courageous women, and especially about people who did make a difference.