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

Stokes, John A., with Lois Wolfe and Herman J. Viola. Students on Strike: Jim Crow, Civil Rights, Brown, and Me. 2008. 128pp. Lexile 1030.

In this powerful true story, black teenagers in 1951 Prince Edward County, Virginia, took a courageous stance on civil rights that led to extraordinarily unfair consequences.  John Stokes, who was one of those teenagers,
uses a low-key, personal voice to tell of his role in a strike against the county schools.  The students initiated the strike because the all-black high school was so inferior to the all-white one; they weren’t asking for integration, they were asking for better schools.  But the NAACP would only get involved to fight for integration, a goal to which the students reluctantly agreed.  It was a hard choice because they had a sense of how they’d be mistreated at an integrated school; the students also had great respect for the teachers at the all-black school. The strike led to a lawsuit that was part of Brown v. Board of Education (which combined several lawsuits).  Shockingly, Prince Edward County reacted to the legal mandate for school integration by shutting down the public schools for five years and giving white students vouchers for private schools.  Although some black students moved out of the county for school, many more lost their chance for an education during those years, leading some to question whether the strike had been a good idea. A painful yet in some ways inspiring piece of American history.  Bibliography and suggested resources.

Reading Std #6: Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.  Since this is a memoir, the author has a personal stake in the story.  Have students look for specifics that show Stokes’ viewpoint.  Does his personal role add to the emotional impact?