On July 21, 2008, the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial was dedicated and unveiled on the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond. The event marks the first monument placed at Capitol Square that features minorities or youth. Hundreds gathered Monday to honor and remember the courageous students of Robert R. Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, who in the spring of 1951, organized and staged a walkout and protest of poor conditions perpetuated by racial segregation. The demonstration’s bold leader was a 16-year old high school junior named Barbara Johns. In April that year, the young woman addressed her classmates and encouraged them to work in solidarity to demand better facilities, adequate supplies, and equitable compensation for teachers at their all-black school in Prince Edward County. They had long been overcrowded in substandard classrooms, and they had neither a cafeteria nor gym. The group devised a ruse that sent the principal away, and then walked out. For two weeks, they refused to return. In that time, Oliver White Hill and Spottswood Robinson III filed a lawsuit on behalf of the student body asking for desegregation of Prince Edward County Schools. The resulting, Davis V. County School Board of Prince Edward County represented a growing movement, and would be combined with four other cases to become the historic Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. That case culminated in the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision that “separate but equal” racial policies were un-Constitutional.
For young Johns, who was the niece of early civil rights activist Rev. Vernon Johns, equality was more than a liberal abstraction, but a value her family mightily embraced. Acting on a dream of justice that challenges authority like what young Barbara confronted is the greatest mark of heroism. She has been called “Virginia’s Rosa Parks” for looking at and rising before giants of oppression.
Barbara Johns died of cancer on Sept. 28, 1991. But her memory and dream of justice continues to inspire others, and is now memorialized handsomely in bronze and granite at the Virginia State Capitol.
At age 16, Barbara Rose Johns led classmates in a protest of segregation and substandard conditions at Moton High School, Farmville, Virginia. The lawsuit garnered attention and grew, becoming the historic case, Brown v. Board of Education.
Thousands gathered at the Capitol to attend the Unveiling and Dedication Ceremony.
Creator of the four-sided bronze and granite monument, renowned sculptor, Stanley Bleifeld
Governor Timothy M. Kaine (far left), awaits the signal to unveil the monument. Julian Bonds (far right), Chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People looks on.
Poet and professor Nikki Giovanni (center) addressed thousands during the Dedication Ceremony, and then helped with the unveiling.
Yesterday’s Petersburg resident and today’s mega-star, Blair Underwood, awaits a signal for the unveiling.
Members of the Richmond Boys Choir
Mayoral Candidate, Delegate Dwight Jones (left) stands alongside Henry L. Marsh III, Richmond’s first African American Mayor.
Delegate Dwight Jones (left) joins Congressman Bobby Scott for photos.
Family members of Barbara Rose Johns