updated 5/17/2004 11:04:34 AM ET 2004-05-17T15:04:34

April 23, 1951, over 150 black students from R.R. Moton High in Farmville, Virginia walk out of their classes, refusing their "separate but equal" education; refusing to learn another day in the tarpaper shacks with leaky roofs; refusing to read the hand-me-down books deemed too “old” for white students.

Three years later, the students’ courage results in their case becoming part of Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that declared “separate but equal” education unconstitutional.

The "MSNBC Special Presentation: The Battle for America’s Schools, How the Children Won and Lostdocuments their struggle, the historic court victory, and what happened next— years of resistance to reform, then five years during which the Prince Edward County school system was completely shut down when its leaders refused to integrate. 

50 years after the Supreme Court decision, the students share what the loss of public education meant to them -- the enormous personal sacrifice that profoundly and permanently changed their lives.  The documentary, hosted by NBC's Lester Holt, vividly recounts the struggle in their own words, creating a rich oral history of the real story surrounding what some consider the most important Supreme Court ruling of the 20th century.

Those who paid the price for progress believe that nothing will ever make things right, but they want to make the story known, and they want the state to acknowledge its failure to a generation of children.

Watch video excerpts from the documentary in the box to the left. “'The Battle for America's Schools, How the Children Won and Lost,” aired Sunday, May 16 at 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

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