State commission selects Barbara Rose Johns to represent Virginia in U.S. Capitol display

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A state commission voted Wednesday to replace Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in a U.S. Capitol display with civil-rights icon Barbara Rose Johns, who as a teen led a walkout at her all-Black high school in Farmville that paved the way for school desegregation.

The April 23, 1951 walkout at the all-Black Robert Russa Moton High School led by Johns, then 16, gained the support of a pair of NAACP lawyers, Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson, whose lawsuit challenging school segregation would eventually be among the suits that the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

The Commission on Historical Statues in the United States Capitol voted Wednesday to recommend that a new statue honoring Johns, who died in 1991, be commissioned to accompany the statue of George Washington that has stood alongside the Lee statue in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol since 1909.

“The commission has undertaken a very thorough and deliberate process to select a historical figure who represents the values of today’s Virginians,” said State Sen. Louise Lucas, who chaired the commission, which earlier this year had voted to recommend the removal of the Lee statue.

“I thank the members for their dedication and determination to reach this difficult and impactful decision,” Lucas said.

Johns was chosen from among five finalists for a new statue – that list including Hill, the civil-rights attorney, along with John Mercer Langston, a 19th century African American abolitionist and law school dean, Maggie Walker, an African American banking pioneer, and Pocahontas.

The Lee statue will be removed from the display in the U.S. Capitol in the coming days.

The next steps in the process include getting formal approval from the General Assembly to make the change and to appropriate the money to commission a new statue.

Story by Chris Graham


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