Cover image for The girl from the tar paper school : Barbara Rose Johns and the advent of the civil rights movement
The girl from the tar paper school : Barbara Rose Johns and the advent of the civil rights movement
Physical Description:
56 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 26 cm
The tar paper shack problem -- "A little child shall lead them" -- The quiet embrace of the woods -- The time has come -- Stick with us -- Reaching for the moon -- Pupil lashes out at principal -- A lawsuit is filed- and the troubles begin -- The lost generation -- "Nothing is as strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as strength." -- The birth of the civil rights movement -- Timeline.
Reading Level:
1100 L Lexile
Describes the peaceful protest organized by teenager Barbara Rose Johns in order to secure a permanent building for her segregated high school in Virginia in 1951, and explains how her actions helped fuel the civil rights movement.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book J 323.092 KAN 1 1
Book J 323.092 KAN 0 1
Book J 323.092 KAN 1 1
Book J 323.092 KAN 1 1

On Order



The Girl from the Tar Paper School mixes biography, social history and archival images to tell the gripping story of sixteen-year-old Barbara Rose Johns. In 1951, witnessing the unfair conditions in her racially segregated high school, Barbara led a walk-out--the first public protest of its kind demanding racial equality in the US--jumpstarting the American Civil Rights movement. Her school's case went all the way to the Supreme Court and helped outlaw segregation as part of Brown vs. Board of Education. Barbara grew up to eventually become a librarian, but never sought notoriety for her earlier efforts, in fact her colleagues never knew. The book is illustrated with family photos, school and town photographs, as well as archives from her classmates and local and national news media. It includes a bibliography and index.

Author Notes

Teri Kanefield left behind her law practice to pursue writing. She holds an M.A. in English with emphasis in fiction writing from the University of California, Davis and a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. Teri's middle-grade historical novel, Rivka's Way (Cricket, 2001), was named a Notable Book of 2001 by the Association of Jewish Libraries. Her essays have appeared in Education Week, the San Francisco Recorder and other periodicals.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Kanefield (Rivka's Way) reveals Barbara Johns as an unsung civil rights pioneer in this biography for middle-grade readers. As the architect of a student strike in the segregated American south of the 1950s, Johns drew attention to the substandard school conditions she and fellow African-American classmates endured, often in classrooms with tar papered walls. "When it rained, the roofs leaked.... Some students sat under umbrellas so the ink on their papers wouldn't run." In piecing together this account of the courageous, outspoken Johns and the strike at Virginia's Moton High School, the author mines several sources, including Johns' handwritten memoir and interviews Kanefield conducted with Johns's family and friends. Numerous archival and contemporary photos appear throughout, and sidebars cover segregation, the KKK, and other relevant topics. While Johns' innovative, nonviolent protest against racial inequity didn't play out as expected, it did end up a part of the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, helping bring an end to school segregation. This stirring tribute to Johns is an important addition to any student collection of civil rights books. Ages 10-14. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

A heartfelt tribute to Barbara Rose Johns, a lesser-known heroine of the early civil rights movement. In 1951 Virginia, black Robert R. Moton High School and white Farmville High were separate but definitely not equal, and quiet Barbara and her classmates decided to strike. Profuse details, some extraneous, threaten to overtake the inspiring story of bravery. Timeline. Bib., ind. (c) Copyright 2014. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Barbara Rose Johns is not a household name, but she is one of the most important players in the early days of the civil rights movement. In 1951, 16-year-old Johns organized a series of peaceful demonstrations to draw attention to the substandard education she and classmates were receiving in their segregated tar paper schools, one-room shanties with leaky roofs and no heat. Drawing on inspiration from a favorite teacher and with the support of her family, Johns planned and led a strike at the school that garnered both positive and negative attention from the press and from peers. The demands that Johns made, including equality in educational facilities, would soon after be argued before the United States Supreme Court in the seminal case of Brown v. Board of Education. Well-researched and drawing heavily on Johns' own writings, and interviews with people who knew her best, Kanefield's text manages to create a story that is genuine and should serve as an example to any young person battling an injustice.--Anderson, Erin Copyright 2010 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6 Up-This is the story of a Farmville, Virginia high schooler, who, in 1953, led a student strike for a better-built school on par with the building for white students. Although she was known as a quiet, reserved student, Johns was so incensed about the terrible conditions in which she and her classmates were required to learn that she engineered the exit of the principal from her school, mocked up a call to assembly, and then led students out on strike. She contacted the NAACP, which counseled that students return to class. When they refused, the organization told Johns that it would support only movements for integration. Students then worked to get an agreement to request integration from their parents and the broader black community. Once the community aligned behind integration as the eventual goal and a lawsuit was filed, students returned to class. The suit filed on behalf of the Farmville students ended up in the Supreme Court, one of the four cases that comprised the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Beautifully and clearly written, this story of a teen who refused to be deterred in her pursuit of educational equality is matched by period photos-many of them located only after significant effort, as the Johns's home was burned-and primary source quotations. A "Civil Rights Timeline," solid end notes and source notes, and a sound index round out this excellent look at the roots and the breadth of the Civil Rights Movement.-Ann Welton, Grant Elementary School, Tacoma, WA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Kanefield tells the story of Barbara Rose Johns, whose fight for equality in the schools of Farmville, Va., went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In 1950, 15-year-old Barbara Johns was a junior at the all-black Robert R. Moton High School in rural Virginia, a crowded school using temporary classrooms that were little more than tar paper shacks, more like chicken coops than classrooms, with leaky roofs and potbellied stoves that provided little heat. Farmville High School, the white school, was a modern building with up-to-date facilities. Sick of the disparity, Barbara led a strike, demanding equal facilities in the schools of her town. Her actions drew the usual response from the white community: cross-burnings, white stores denying credit to black customers and criticism for their "ill-advised" actions. Although threats caused Barbara's parents to send her to live with family in Alabama, where she graduated from high school, the Moton students' case was eventually bundled with others, including Brown v. Board of Education. In an attractive volume full of archival photographs, informative sidebars and a clearly written text, Kanefield shares an important though little-known story of the movement. A one-page summary of "The Birth of the Civil Rights Movement" and a civil rights timeline connect Barbara's story to the larger struggle; sadly, the bibliography offers no mention of the many fine volumes available for young readers who will want to know more. An important glimpse into the early civil rights movement. (author's note, sources, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.