In 1951, Barbara Johns stepped onto the stage of Robert Russa Moton High School, her segregated school in Prince Edward County, Virginia. The 16-year-old, who had tricked the student body into attending an unauthorised school assembly, spoke with confidence. "There wasn't any fear," she would later write.
"I just thought this is your moment – seize it!" Johns urged her fellow black classmates to join her in protesting conditions at their overcrowded school, which had been built for 180 students but now held more than 475. She called for a student strike to demand a new building. But when she led the parade of teens out of the school's front door, it set off a series of actions that would soon change US history. The protest prompted a lawsuit culminating in the US Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v the Board of Education decision that outlawed racial segregation in public schools.
It also had a catastrophic impact at the local level. Prince Edward County decided to close its public schools for several years rather than let black and white children attend classes together.