Cover image for Students on strike : growing up African American in the segregated South
Students on strike : growing up African American in the segregated South

Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : National Geographic, 2008.
Physical Description:
127 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
Fear makes me hide -- Growing up rich in spirit -- School days -- Life in the Jim Crow South -- Beating the system -- Lessons from Ned -- The sky did not fall -- Separate but never equal -- Our Manhattan project -- There's a riot at the school -- Taking care of business -- Don't give up -- Uncharted waters -- A skittish night -- Cover me -- Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County -- Massive resistance -- Standing on shoulders.
Reading Level:
1030 L Lexile


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 379.263 STO 1 1
Book 379.263 STO 1 1
Book 379.263 STO 1 2
Book J 379.263 STO 1 1

On Order



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.

Author Notes

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.

Reviews 3

School Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Horn Book Review

Stokes's first-person account takes readers to 1951 Prince Edward County, Virginia, where he and his classmates staged a strike at their "separate but equal" high school. Though his focus is that specific event, he also provides historical background and touches on the national upheaval surrounding school desegregation: riots, imprisonments, economic retribution, etc. Stokes's voice bring immediacy and authenticity to the account. Reading list, websites. Bib. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

Several years prior to the Supreme Court's desegregation order, students at an all-black high school in Prince Edward County, Virginia, were driven to strike against the terrible conditions there. Their complaints were eventually folded into the class-action-suit Brown v. Board of Education, and this fascinating account, co-written by Stokes, who was one of the strike's leaders, explains how, with NAACP guidance, the strikers' efforts to correct a molehill  shifted to a larger battle. Although the book initially provides powerful, personal details about injustices Stokes experienced in the Jim Crow South, autobiographical elements are eventually subsumed by the collective action, described in positive tones somewhat at odds with the closing admission of rifts in the black community over the strike's aftermath (schools were closed for more than five years). One is left wondering if there's more to the story than is celebrated here, but little can undermine the inspirational aspects of the strike, which will motivate and guide young activists today. A section of small black-and-white photographs, a bibliography, and a resource list are included.--Mattson, Jennifer Copyright 2008 Booklist