Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Who was Barbara Johns?

In January of 2002, the youngest daughter of Virginia’s 69th governor, Mark Warner, noticed that among the six statues honoring people on the grounds of what would be her yard for the next four years, there were no statues honoring a female. Nor were there any remembering significant figures of the Civil Rights Era. She asked her mother, Lisa Collis, why.

Collis started to thinking, which eventually led Virginia’s then-First Lady to consult with others to help fill in some of the gaps in Virginia history her child had found in the statuary of Capitol Square. Now a new monument is in the works -- the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial.

The sculpture by Stanley Bleifeld will commemorate a 1951 student demonstration which was led by a 16-year-old girl named Barbara Johns. To protest the deplorable conditions in which they found themselves at Robert R. Moten School, an all-black school in Farmville, students staged a “walk-out.” Although it was change they were seeking, those brave students had no way of knowing where their peaceful demonstration’s walk would lead. Much of the worst violence of the Civil Rights Era was still to come.

Nonetheless, they took those first steps. Eventually, the students were joined by civil rights attorneys Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson. Together, those determined Virginians wrote an inspiring chapter of the commonwealth’s history that this new monument will remember for all to see, upon its unveiling next summer.

Click here to visit the web site of the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial’s foundation. Once there, you can see a preview of what the Bleifeld sculpture will look like and learn more about how this all came about.

Click here to read more about Barbara Johns. And, here. Soon, I'll be writing and posting more on Johns.

Click here to go to artist Stanley Bleifeld’s site.

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