High School Pupils Stage Strike for New Building

By B.T. Gillespie
FARMVILLE, Va.--Aroused 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.

School authorities 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 to school.

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 for them.