Monday, August 06, 2007

Oliver Hill in bronze

Oliver W. Hill (1907-2007), who died on Sunday morning in his Richmond home, will be memorialized in bronze next year.

Covering the official unveiling of the plan to install a new Virginia Civil Rights Memorial on the grounds of Capitol Square, Michael Hardy wrote about the $2.6 million project, which is being financed by private funds. Here is an except of Hardy’s piece that appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on May 15, 2007:

“...The four-sided memorial will feature 18 bronze figures showing Prince Edward’s Moton High School protesters, modern-day blacks and whites walking together and civil-rights pioneer the Rev. L. Francis Griffin, who led the community campaign. It will also depict Oliver W. Hill and Spottswood Robinson III, the lead attorneys in the case included in the Supreme Court’s five Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decisions in 1954.”

Here’s some background on the project:

In January of 2002, Eliza, the youngest daughter of Virginia’s 69th governor, Mark Warner, noticed there were no statues honoring females among the six monuments she saw on the grounds of what would be her yard for the next four years. Nor were there any statues remembering significant figures of the Civil Rights Era.

Eliza asked her mother, Lisa Collis, why that would be so.

That 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 in the statuary of Capitol Square her child had pointed out. Now, after much behind-the-scenes work, the new monument with 18 figures of men, women and children mentioned above is in the works.

The sculpture being made by Stanley Bleifeld will commemorate an unusual student demonstration in 1951 -- which was led by a 16-year-old girl named Barbara Johns -- and the events it set in motion. To protest the deplorable conditions in which they found themselves at Robert R. Moten School, a dilapidated 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. After all, much of the worst violence of the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and '60s was still to come. Nonetheless, risking all, they took those first steps.

Eventually, the students were joined by civil rights attorneys Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson and others. Together, those determined Virginians wrote an inspiring chapter of the commonwealth’s history this new monument will symbolically gather and present in bronze 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.

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

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