Pupil Lashes Out at School Principal
FARMVILLE, Va.--The little girl with the sun kissed-colored skin stood quietly looking over citizens of Farmville packed into the church, with her bright eyes sharply focused on the gathering and then she began speaking in slow, deliberate tones:
"Don't let Mr. Charlie, Mr. Tommy, or Mr. Pervall, stop you from backing us. We are depending on you."
A thunderous ovation
rang throughout the church. The 16-year-old girl stood firm, lines of
determination set in the corners of her delicate mouth.
She was Barbara Johns, 11th grade pupil at the Robert R. Moton School, who was spokesman for the striking pupils.
Her remarks were directed against Joseph B. Pervall, once principal of the Moton High School, who had taken the floor after Spottswood Robinson, 3rd, NAACP lawyer, had instructed the striking pupils to return to class, telling them that a petition had been filed asking the ending of racial segregation in Prince Edward County schools.
At the conclusion of Mr. Robinsion's remarks, Mr. Pervall had arisen and said:
"I was under the impression that the pupils were striking for a new building. You are pulling a heavy load, Mr. Robinson, coming down here to a country town like Farmville and trying to take it over on a non-segregated basis."
The audience was temporarily stunned.
Oliver W. Hill, Richmond attorney also on the NAACP legal staff, rose to answer Mr. Pervall, but Mr. Robinson restrained him saying, "Let me answer him."
Before Mr. Robinson could say too much, W. Lester Banks, executive secretary, Virginia State Conference NAACP, took over.
"Let me take you back to last Thursday night (when the P-TA met)," Mr. Banks said, "when it was agreed that the only way to get constitutional rights was to do away with segregational schools."
"Mr. Pervall, I'm still talking to you," Mr. Banks reminded the ex-principal.
"At last week's meeting," Mr. Banks added, "the citizens voted 100 per cent that the NAACP intervene and if asked again tonight, I ams rue the reaction would be the same."
And even as his words faded out, applause came from all corners.
When the applause died down, Mr. Robinson resumed the floor and for reassurance as to the NAACP's stand asked the gathering, "Are non-segregated schools what you want?"
And again there was tremendous positive response.
"I don't think we have brought something novel and of a radical manner to Prince Edward County," Mr. Robinson said, "for what you overlook is that this is something the people had been ready for a long time ago."
Miss Johns simply put the wants of the striking children and what they protested against right into the laps of the grownups.
The high school junior stated that at Moton they have no showers, no gymnasium, only four drinking fountains, tow of which are not working; four basins in the girls' restroom, two out of order; and an inadequate heating system.
"Back the pupils up in getting a non-segregated school," she pleaded to the parents.
When the girl finished, there were tears in some eyes, as these grownups looked at this courageous pupil, unafraid to speak her mind.
Mr. Pervall stood up and told the audience that he wanted them to have a fine school and that he was concerned about the interests and wants of the pupils.
He stated that he had not meant that the schools should not be integrated, but that he thought the whole purpose of the strike was for the acquisition of a new school building.
"You know I have the interest of the school at heart," he said, "for I was principal there for 13 years."
From Moton, Mr. Pervall went to Cumberland County, where he left a little over a year ago. He is now principal of a school in Blackstone, Va. He is a native Richmonder.
The last person to speak was the Rev. L.F. Griffin, pastor of the church. he began, "Mr. Pervall has a right to speak...," and continued:
"Anybody who would not back these children after they stepped out on a limb--is not a man. Anybody who won't fight against racial prejudice--is not a man."
"And to those of you who are here to take the news back to Mr. Charlie, take it--only carry the tale straight."
The 1000 persons that attended the meeting lifted their voices and in inspirationed tones the words of "America" filled the church. Outside, there was a blast of thunder and a spark of lightning as May cut capers with a thunderstorm.
And when the meeting was all over, the people of Little Farmville went home contented, knowing that there was hope that there were better days ahead for their children of school age.
The returning pupils at the Moton High School, which sets in the fork of the road on Route 15, some 70 miles from Richmond and less than 60 from Lynchburg, felt that the two-week sacrifice they had made might be the beginning of a campaign that would put to an end and era of unequal and segregated schools.