Commission on Historical Statues selects civil rights icon Barbara Rose Johns to represent Virginia in U.S. Capitol

Virginia News

The General Assembly is set to vote on commissioning Johns’ statue to replace Confederate general Robert E. Lee

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that the Commission on Historical Statues voted to recommend civil rights icon, Barbara Rose Johns, to represent Virginia in the National Statuary Hall Collection.

Johns’ statue would replace the existing statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

In addition, Northam said his proposed budget includes nearly $500,000 to replace the statue.

On April 23, 1951, 16-year-old Barbara Rose Johns led a student walkout at Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, protesting the overcrowded and unfair conditions of the all-Black school compared to those of white students at nearby Farmville High School.

Her actions initiated the support of NAACP lawyers Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill, who took up her cause and filed a lawsuit that would later be one of five cases the United States Supreme Court reviewed in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka when it declared segregation unconstitutional.

Historians said Johns’ protest was a pivotal moment that launched the desegregation movement in America.

“As a teenager, Barbara Johns bravely led a protest that defied segregation and challenged the barriers that she and her African American peers faced, ultimately dismantling them,” said Northam.

Northam signed legislation this year that established the Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol, which is charged with deciding to study the removal and replacement of the Robert E. Lee statue.

The eight-member commission, chaired by Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), voted unanimously to recommend the removal of the statue on July 24, 2020.

“The Commission has undertaken a very thorough and deliberate process to select a historical figure who represents the values of today’s Virginians,” said Lucas.

“Throughout each step in the selection process, we heard the thoughts and opinions from the public as well as from our diverse committee members. I am proud of the decision we made as a Commonwealth,” said Del. Jeion Ward, another member.

The Robert E. Lee statue is set to be removed from the United States Capitol in the coming days.

The commission said it will continue its work to select a sculptor and commission a statue of Barbara Johns.

In response to Northam’s announcement, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both of Virginia, released statements Wednesday night.

“Brave, patriotic, and pioneering, Barbara Johns represents the best of Virginia. Her statue will serve as a testament to the power of young people who stand up for themselves, their peers, and their rights under the Constitution. ‘And a little child shall lead them.'”

Sen. Tim Kaine

Barbara Johns bravely led a protest that defied segregation and challenged the barriers that she and her African American peers faced. She will represent the best of our Commonwealth in the U.S. Capitol.

Sen. Mark Warner

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