Feb 16, 2010

John Stokes speaks to students

by Melinda Zosh

More than 55 years have passed since the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education, but the decision is still fresh in John Stokes’ mind.

On April 23, 1951, Stokes marched in strike at his high school in Virginia for a chance at better education. His memoir “Students on Strike” details his involvement in the case.

Stokes stayed calm and cool when he marched on strike, according to the Director of Spiritual Life for the football team Ed Gomes.

“He could have said ‘let’s make the issue the color of one’s skin,’” Gomes said. “What he said very emphatically is the best thing that one can do to advance what is right is you do not do it with guns or violence, you do it with your brain.”

Stokes spoke to Liberty University students and the public Feb. 13 at the Towns Alumni Hall. The event was co-sponsored by the Center for Multi-cultural Enrichment (Center4ME), the LU Multicultural Advisory Board and Barnes & Noble, according to Director of Center4ME Melany Pearl.

Center4ME invites different speakers every year as part of its Black History Month celebration, according to Pearl. The group invited Stokes to recognize the progress of the American educational system.

“This was a unique opportunity to have a living legend visit the campus and tell his life’s experiences and how Liberty University students are benefiting from his actions in the 1950s,” Pearl said.

Stokes demonstrated the Jim Crow laws of the 1950s. In one demonstration, 20 volunteers were given yellow and pink tickets.
Everyone with a yellow ticket sat at the back of a group of chairs, which represented bus seating in the 1950s. People could only sit next to someone who had the same colored ticket. If there was an empty seat, people with yellow tickets could not sit next to people with pink tickets.

“He further explained that if the bus was crowded, any black person that had to stand also had to secure verbal permission to stand next to a seated white person,” Pearl said.

Gomes closed by saying that he was most impressed with the way that Stokes handled himself with a Christ-like attitude. Stokes’ mother brought him and her other children to TRBC, and this shaped Stokes’ approach during the Civil Rights Movement, Gomes said.

“He did not waiver on his commitment God. He can use things that seem bad and allow good to come out of something bad,” Gomes said. “My challenge to all of us is to let our light so shine that God will use us as instruments of righteousness here at Liberty.”

All heritage celebrations including Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month and Black History Month are an “augment to what is recorded in general history books,” Pearl said. “Historically, the accomplishments and contributions of underrepresented populations have been omitted from the American story,” Pearl said. “Center4ME is intentional about bringing these stories forward.”

Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Hine introduced Stokes at the start of the event and expressed his hope for what the students would take away from it.

“Hearing someone give an account of events they actually lived through had so much more meaning than just reading facts from a history book,” Hine said. “His presentation was passionate because he lived the events about which he spoke.”

The enrollment of minorities has increased dramatically since Gomes first came to Liberty as a student in 1974.

“Here at Liberty, we are living out Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream,” Gomes said. “At Liberty, the number of minorities continues to grow, and it is a testimony to the steps that are being taken to rewrite history.”

Contact Melinda Zosh at

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