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We Are Your Children Too

Black Students, White Supremacists, and the Battle for America's Schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia


About The Book

This “detailed, fascinating” (Booklist, starred review) nonfiction middle grade book explores a deeply troubling chapter in American history that is still playing out today: the strange case of Prince Edward County, Virginia, the only place in the United States to ever formally deny its citizens a public education, and the students who pushed back.

In 1954, after the passing of Brown v. the Board of Education, the all-White school board of one county in south central Virginia made the decision to close its public schools rather than integrate. Those schools stayed closed for five years.

While the affluent White population of Prince Edward County built a private school—for White children only—Black children and their families had to find other ways to learn. Some Black children were home schooled by unemployed Black teachers. Some traveled thousands of miles away to live with relatives, friends, or even strangers. Some didn’t go to school at all.

But many stood up and became young activists, fighting for one of the rights America claims belongs to all: the right to learn.

About The Author

P. O’Connell Pearson has always taught history—first in the high school classroom and then as a curriculum writer and editor across grade levels. Ready to share her enthusiasm for stories of the past in a new way, she earned an MFA in writing for young people from Lesley University and now writes narrative nonfiction for ages ten and up. Her books have received recognition from Bank Street, NCSS, the New-York Historical Society, Arizona Library Association, and more. When Pearson is not writing about history, she can often be found talking about history as a volunteer with the National Park Service in Washington, DC.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (January 10, 2023)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665901413
  • Grades: 5 - 9
  • Ages: 10 - 14
  • Lexile ® 1010L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

In this significant nonfiction volume, Pearson (Conspiracy: Nixon, Watergate, and Democracy’s Defenders) crafts an in-depth look at Black teens fighting for their right for free education in 1950 Prince Edward County, Va. Due to segregation and the realities of separate but not equal, Black children were forced to attend schools that lacked fundamental resources, including textbooks, teachers, and proper facilities, where students were often expected to share a single outhouse in place of indoor bathrooms. Frustrated by these conditions, 16-year-old Barbara Johns (1935–1991), aided by her classmates and the local NAACP chapter, took the case to the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education; segregation was subsequently declared unconstitutional. Despite this historic declaration, however, Prince Edward County refused to integrate and instead closed its public schools and built a private academy that only admitted white students. This forced Black children to find alternative means for education, such as homeschooling or moving out of the state entirely, and exacerbated social and class divides within Black communities. The timeliness of this essential work highlights an important point in U.S. history, exploring class privilege and structural racism. B&w photographs feature throughout; a timeline concludes. Ages 10–14.

– Publishers Weekly , December 2022

An African American teen organizes a student strike because of poor conditions at her school and triggers a countywide battle for equal education.

Barbara Johns was concerned about the education she and her fellow high school students were receiving in their run-down, ill-equipped school in rural Prince Edward County, Virginia, in 1950. There was a dearth of books and even buses to get them to school. The local school board made no effort to improve schools attended by Black students. Barbara, 16, led strike efforts, supported by the local chapter of the NAACP. Many Black adults feared retaliation from Whites, and there were in fact efforts at intimidation after the NAACP filed a lawsuit on the students’ behalf. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional, Prince Edward County officials embarked on a campaign to resist complying that closed public schools in the county for five years; White students were educated privately through state funds. The drive to provide universal educational opportunities was an uphill climb for the county’s African Americans and their White allies. This is a detailed and dramatic depiction, rich in context, of the price a small community paid for seeking equality. It demonstrates the resilience of those who fought segregation while never downplaying how much was lost, and it provides evidence of ways the damage continues to have an impact today.

A sobering study of the struggle for educational equity. (photo credits, timeline, selected bibliography, recommended reading, endnotes, index)

– Kirkus, October 11th, 2022

*In 1951, 16-year-old Barbara Johns spoke out against the overcrowded, underfunded, grossly inadequate high school that she and other Black students attended in Prince Edward County,
Virginia. The students' peaceful walkout shook up the community and provoked a fierce backlash, but it led to one of five lawsuits combined into the Brown v. Board of Education case, decided by the Supreme Court in 1954. Later, ordered to desegregate Prince Edward County’s schools, state and local officials vowed “massive resistance” and shut down the county’s public education system from 1959 to 1964. White, well-to-do residents built a private school for their kids and provided tax-payer-supported vouchers for certain other white children while locking all other students out of their classrooms for five years. A former history teacher and the author of Fighting for the Forest (2019) and Fly Girls (2019), Pearson begins with a useful preliminary chapter on Virginia history from 1607 to 1950, emphasizing attitudes toward Black people. The main text focuses on events in Prince Edward County during the tumultuous 1950s, 1960s, and
beyond, showing how the lack of schooling impacted certain individuals and describing changes in the county through 2021. Illustrated mainly with black-and-white photos, here's a detailed, fascinating account of a little-known chapter in American history.

— Carolyn Phelan

– Booklist STARRED , November 1, 2022

In this detailed account of educational inequity in Prince Edward County, VA, Pearson educates young readers on systemic racism in the US and the importance of access to public education. The account starts in 1951, when a Black high school student named Barbara Johns led a student protest against the unfair conditions at her school. Her protest started a movement in the county, and with support from the NAACP, the case against the school district became one of the five in the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. the Board of Education. When ordered by the courts to desegregate their schools, the Prince Edward County school board voted to defund their public schools and instead provide public funding to vouchers for a white-only private school. For five years, Black students and many poor white students were not able to attend school. Pearson reflects on the negative impact this had on students’ futures, families, and community, and the lives of generations of students after. The epilogue discusses today’s young activists taking a stand on racism, education inequity during the COVID-19 school shutdown, and gun violence, emphasizing how young people can make positive change. Black-and-white photographs appear throughout; back matter includes a detailed index, time line, recommended reading, and glossary. VERDICT Highly recommended for middle school collections.

– School Library Journal, Janurary 2023

Awards and Honors

  • Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Junior Title
  • Virginia Literary Award Nominee

Resources and Downloads

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More books from this author: P. O’Connell Pearson