Naja Butler on Barbara Johns

“It seemed like reaching for the moon.”

Young civil rights activist Barbara Johns was a pioneering leader in the American civil rights movement. On April 23, 1951, at the age of 16, she led a student strike for equal education at segregated Moton High School in Virginia. The students stayed out in protest for two weeks, eventually gaining the support of the NAACP and becoming the only student-initiated case consolidated into Brown v Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision declaring “separate but equal” unconstitutional. Naja Butler, whose great-grandfather fought alongside Johns explains that Barbara Johns' quote "It seemed like reaching for the moon" inspires her to go after anything and have "willingness to put yourself out there.”

Our storytellers share these astonishing women with us conversationally and unscripted; we fact-check afterwards and note any major discrepancies for accuracy.

Featured Woman

Barbara Johns

In 1951 at only 16, Barbara Johns became a pioneer for the American civil rights movement, leading a student strike at R.R. Moton High School in Virginia. With the support of the NAACP, the students filed Davis v. Prince Edward County which became part of the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. After the success of the strike, Johns’ family had to send her to live out of state due to Ku Klux Klan harassment. Ultimately, Johns became a librarian, showing a lifelong commitment to fairness in education for all. Barbara Johns has been widely honored and in 2020 Virginia’s commission on Historical Statues recommended that a statue of Barbara Johns replace the recently removed statue of Robert E. Lee.