Students on Strike: Jim Crow, Civil Rights, Brown, and Me

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Overview

John Stokes has waited more than 50 years to give his eyewitness account of "The Manhattan Project." This was the name he and a group of fellow students gave their strike at R.R. Moton High School that helped to end separate schooling for blacks and whites, not only in his home state of Virginia, but throughout America. Told in Stokes’ own words, the story vividly conveys how his passion for learning helped set in motion one of the most powerful movements in American history, resulting in the desegregation of ...
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Overview

John Stokes has waited more than 50 years to give his eyewitness account of "The Manhattan Project." This was the name he and a group of fellow students gave their strike at R.R. Moton High School that helped to end separate schooling for blacks and whites, not only in his home state of Virginia, but throughout America. Told in Stokes’ own words, the story vividly conveys how his passion for learning helped set in motion one of the most powerful movements in American history, resulting in the desegregation of schools—and life—in the United States.

As a child tending crops on the family farm, John Stokes never dreamed that one day he would be at the center of the Civil Rights Movement. Yet, on April 23, 1951, he and his fellow students walked out of the school and into the history books. Their school was built to accommodate 180 students, yet over 400 black students attended classes in leaky buildings with tar paper walls. A potbelly stove served as the only source of heat, and the school lacked running water, indoor plumbing, and a cafeteria. Yet to Stokes and his fellow students, it was their path to a better life.

Students on Strike is an evocative first-person narrative from a period of radical change in American history. Stokes recounts the planning of the student walkout, the secret meetings, the plot to send the principal on a wild goose chase after "truant" students, and the strategy to boycott classes until conditions improved. The author recalls the challenges in persuading teachers and parents to support the strike, and the intimidation that came in the form of threats and a cross-burning on school grounds. Archival illustrations from Stokes’ scrapbook add to the emotional impact of his story. The narrative follows the course of the lawsuits filed by the NAACP, which would became part of the historic Brown v Board of Education ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court and the subsequent end to segregation in America.

Young readers will relish this inspirational account of the heroic struggles of John Stokes and his fellow students; they will also learn a timeless lesson that people with little influence—but with great determination—can make a difference.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Naomi Milliner
His mother cooked and cleaned for white people, yet was a Bible scholar; his father had a third grade education, but read three newspapers a day. No wonder the author was destined to take a stand for future generations. Stokes grew up in Prince Edward County, Virginia, where segregation was not only practiced, but legal. Although Stokes and his five siblings were taught the importance of education early on, ironically, they confronted numerous obstacles to get that education. First, there was the three-year delay before they could even start elementary school, because the designated building was in a dangerous location. Then came the four-mile walk to school along a busy highway (buses were only for white students). And finally, once they got to school, 450 people were squeezed into a building designed for 180. The author notes that "The cows I used to milk lived in a more secure structure than the shacks we attended classes in." Fed up with the separate-but-not-equal school system, Stokes and the 450 students went on strike on April 23, 1951, refusing to return until a new building was under construction. Written in a friendly, engaging style, this memoir is a fascinating story of hope, courage, conviction and determination that is guaranteed to inspire its readers to set an example for their fellow students. That way, one day, someone will be able to stand on your shoulders. Reviewer: Naomi Milliner
School Library Journal

Gr 6-10- In 1951, a group of African-American high school students in Prince Edward County, VA, went on strike to protest the substandard conditions in their segregated school. They eventually became plaintiffs in a lawsuit that was one of the five that were part of the 1954 Brown decision. In 1959, Prince Edward County closed its schools rather than comply with desegregation orders, and deprived thousands of black students of an education until county schools reopened in 1964. Fear of retribution and lingering bitterness has kept the strike leaders silent, but Stokes, who was among them, has decided that the story of the strike and its aftermath needed to be told. He opens by describing how he and his family survived under the severe restrictions of the Jim Crow South. He then explains how the students' desire for a more equal education motivated them to create and implement intricate strike plans and discusses how the local African-American community supported their efforts in spite of the "massive resistance" of white Virginians. Period black-and-white photos and maps are included. Stokes's inspiring story reveals an almost completely unreported part of one of the most important court cases of the 20th century, and it will hold the interest of researchers and readers, making this an important choice for all collections.-Mary Mueller, Rolla Junior High School, MO

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781426301544
  • Publisher: National Geographic Society
  • Publication date: 12/26/2007
  • Pages: 128
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.53 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

John Stokes grew up as one of six children on a small farm in Kingsville, VA. After high school, he served two years in the U.S. Army, before graduating from Virginia State University. He worked as a teacher in the Baltimore public school system, retiring as a principal in 1994. He now lives in Lanham, MD.
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  • Posted June 5, 2013

    Mrs. Cuthbertson's Core 1 (6th Grade Class Book Review)  Vista P

    Mrs. Cuthbertson's Core 1 (6th Grade Class Book Review) 
    Vista PEAK Exploratory, Aurora, CO

    Have you heard of the text Students on Strike by John A. Stokes? It is a true story about a young African American boy who had to do a brave and smart thing to fight segregation in the Jim Crow South. 




     In 1876 through 1965 the Jim Crow South was very segregated and whites enjoyed basic rights that black people didn’t, because in the Jim Crow South if you were not white then you were considered inferior. For example, African Americans or “Negroes” (what whites called the blacks during this time) had to sit in the back of the bus while whites were in the front. Also, in this time there were segregated bathrooms, schools, restaurants, hospitals, movie theaters, churches, and even military bases. It wasn’t until 1951, when John A. Stokes joined a group that led a strike against the white school board, that things started to change for the black community. It was not until the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that things really began to change in the Jim Crow South.  




    When the book begins, John is a twelve-year-old “colored” boy who lived on a farm. He had to take responsibility in his life.  He, along with his five siblings, also had to help his mom and dad by working on the farm. In the 1950’s in Prince Edward County, Virginia, like most of the Jim Crow South, Virginia was segregated so John’s life was unfair. At the beginning of the book, John was hiding when it was dark outside because nighttime was dangerous for black children. “Whenever and wherever colored children are walking after dark, we are taught to take cover in ditches and gullies, behind bushes and trees, in culverts, or in any safe hiding place as soon as we hear or see a car approaching,” (pg. 9).




    As a high schooler he went to the Northern United States (with Carrie and his older sister). There they learned about how these two places were in the same country but completely opposite. When he was a student at Robert Russa Moton High School he decided to take a stand. He decided to organize a strike with some of his friends. He wanted to first get a bigger and better high school, like the school the white students attended. Then, after talking to the NAACP, they decided to fight for the very first integrated high school in the Jim Crow South. To find out what happened, you’ll have to read the book!




    John A .Stokes won multiple awards throughout his life. We believe the author wants people in the United States to treat each other equally. We think that the most important thing that the author wanted us to walk away with was to not judge a person by their skin color or race because he ended the story with a poem that states, ”Look not at the face nor the color of a person’s skin, but look at the heart which is deep within. John A Stokes helped change the segregated school system forever.

    Overall, the text Students on Strike is an excellent book because of the balance of history and the author’s life. It shows how the author and his family and friends dealt with their life in the Jim Crow South, and how they helped stop most of the segregation in their county. In the beginning, John A. Stokes wasn’t able to talk to any white people. He was offered a bite of toast (from a white girl) but he couldn’t accept it. “She stood in the kitchen door still eating the toast, and said in a soft voice ‘I’m not going to bite you! Why did you run? I’m not poison, you know.’” In the end, he changed his school, fought for integration, and was even part of a Supreme Court case. The way he describes it is like being in a world where everyone is against you just because of the way you look, whether it’s your fault or not. It also describes how black people were mistreated and how they dealt with it. The author also shares the ideas of racism, segregation and integration.This book has a very extensive vocabulary with words like endeavor and bondage, and the book is very informative. This is a book for people who like history or who want to learn more about racism and segregation. We would say this book is for readers ages 11+, due to some language and content. We give the book 4 out of 5 stars because of all of the great vocabulary and the lessons it teaches readers.




    If YOU read this book you will love it like we did. It will amaze and surprise. John A. Stokes had to overcome some obstacles to get to his goal. So, if you like shocking, historical and informative books then this book is for you. We all loved it!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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