SCHOOL BOARD'S INACTION HIT
High School Pupils Stage Strike for New Building
By B.T. Gillespie
over the repeated refusal of the local School Board to give them a new
school building with modern facilities, the entire student body of 450
pupils of the Robert R. Moton High School here went on strike this week.
The group promised
not to return to classes until the School Board gives them a signed statement
that a new building will be begun this summer. Moton High serves both
Farmville and Prince Edward County.
The pupils charge
that the present buildings are temporary, were erected to be used for
only two years and that they now leak, cannot be heated properly, that
the walls are nothing more than cardboard, the building is a fire hazard
because of overcrowded conditions.
They further charge
that they do not have anything to resemble a decent cafeteria, no showers
for the athletic teams, nor do they have hot water or soap in the building
with which to wash their hands.
Adding to the list
of grievances, the spokesman said that two of the four water fountains
in the main building are out of order.
Strike Orderly Thus Far
The walkout took place
early Tuesday morning, after the pupils had attended an assembly in the
small auditorium...large enough for only a fraction of the enrollment.
The strike has been
orderly. The pupils say they have the support of their parents, at which
the school officials have expressed great concern.
The present plant
of the R.R. Moton School consists of one brick and three temporary frame
structures, covered with tar paper.
These buildings, according
to informed sources, were erected when building material was scarce, with
the promise that they would only be used for two years, at which time
a new building would be erected.
The pupils say that
the buildings leak badly and several of the pupils become sick, because
the buildings can not be heated properly.
Set Up Organization
This reporter entered
the main building around 2:30 p.m. The only sign of life around the school
was a few of the faculty members sitting gathered in small groups.
Principal Jones was
non-committal. He said he preferred not to discuss the strike whatsoever.
In the basement of
the First Baptist Church, where the committee selected by the student
body to represent it had set up headquarters, the writer questioned the
pupils at length. There was no particular person chairman of the group
and they asked that no names be published.
Said one member of
the group: "We are going to hold out for either a new building or admittance
to the school now being used for the white pupils."
Patience Worn Thin
"We have been made
promise after promise and our patience has worn thin. We are prepared
to sit this out until the board gives us a signed statement that school
construction will be begun this summer, and we want to see the deed for
the land they have purchased for that purpose."
The group assured
us that their parents were behind them and they were acting on their own
and not at the suggestion of the faculty and principal.
Commenting on a conference
they had with their superintendent, T.J. McIlwine, they quoted him as
saying that he did not care if they didn't go back to classes--that he
was only concerned about the $100 per day it was costing the city while
they were on strike.
The School Board,
through the superintendent, charges that the walkout took place even while
negotiations were going on for a site for a new building.
Citizens Back Pupils
According to their
account, a new R.R. Moton School, costing $800,000 with facilities to
care for 700 pupils, was "to be built soon."
In describing the
deplorable conditions of their school, the pupils, in contrast, pointed
out the modern building for white pupils with modern facilities.
Citizens here are
behind the pupils in their fight and say this is the first time in Farmville
history that high school pupils have taken such a bold stand.
The steering committee,
representing the student body, said, "We refuse to settle for a school
any less modern than the present white school and we are young enough
to wait a long time to resume our studies."
NAACP, P-TA Aroused
Lester Banks of the
State NAACP told a meeting of the school's Parent-Teacher Association
last Thursday night that even the guarantee of a new school for colored
pupils would not guarantee equality with the white schools of the city.
"What a colored school
would be given," Banks charged, "would not be one iota" of what would
be given a white school. "If it were build brick for brick, cement for
cement, the prestige could not equal that of a white school because of
discrimination," he declared.
Members of the School
Board, all white, had been invited to the P-TA meeting, but not a single
one of them attended.
have announced the cancellation of all scheduled athletic contests until
the strike of the pupils has been settled.
It is reported that
Superintendent of Schools McIlaine has instructed the principal to send
letters to all parents and guardians requiring them to return the children
Under Virginia laws
parents and guardians can be prosecuted for failure of their children
or wards under 16 years of age to attend school.
Under the law children
under 16 who refuse to attend school are classed as "neglected children."
The law does not allude to the conditions of the buildings as an excuse
for failure to attend.
According to a spokesman
for the pupils, promised to return to school, Monday, but to walk out
again, unless assured ow a definite date for the beginning of a new school