Johns resolution passes House

Published 12:50 pm Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Senate Joint Resolution in the Virginia General Assembly seeking to designate April 23 of each year as Barbara Johns Day in Virginia has passed the Senate and House unanimously.

The resolution, commending Johns for leading a student walkout on April 23, 1951 from the R.R. Moton High School, protesting the county school board’s lack of action regarding unequal educational facilities, passed on a 95-0 vote in the House on Tuesday.

The resolution now heads to Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“That was excellent,” Sen. Mark Peake, a Republican who introduced the resolution, said of the legislation’s success. “It sailed through the Senate, sailed through the House and I know the governor is going to sign that one. So, I’m excited about that.”

Barbara Johns

Barbara Johns

Peake, who was elected in November, cited the naming of the Attorney General’s Office Building after Johns during a ceremony on Thursday, Feb. 23.

“That’s exciting for Farmville (and) Prince Edward and, of course the Moton Museum is having a celebration on March 4, and that resolution, we’ll present that to them (there).”

The resolution sailed through the Senate 39-0 on Feb. 6.

“I think it’s finally giving her the recognition that she deserves for what she did,” Peake said of the recognition Johns has gotten over the last several weeks in Richmond. “I mean, at her age to stand up against all the forces aligned against her like that and to be outspoken for equality and racial justice at her age just took a tremendous of courage, and it’s kind of gone under the radar to be honest with you. And, I think finally people are realizing the monumental nature of what she did. I’m very happy she’s getting recognized.”

Regarding the resolution, Peake said U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett, who formerly served in the state Senate, “started this resolution … It’s not like I created it.”

Mark Peake

Mark Peake

The strike, led by Johns, would lead to the five-year closure of public schools in the county and the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit, where the U.S. Supreme Court would order the desegregation of all public schools.

According to the resolution, Johns played a unique role in the early years of the civil rights movement by leading the only student protest associated with the Brown ruling.

If legislators adopt the resolution, Barbara Johns Day would first be celebrated next April.

The Farmville Town Council is seeking ways to honor Johns — a prompt that came from Mayor David Whitus during council’s February meeting.

“Several people have mentioned to (Town Manager Gerald) Spates and myself about the town coming up with a way to honor Barbara Johns, particularly since there’s being a building named for her in Richmond,” Whitus said during the meeting.

“It’s so wonderful and awesome to know now that all of the sacrifices that Barbara (made) and the way she led fiercely and the distance that she made in America and in the nation and in Prince Edward County (are being recognized),” said Joy Cabarrus Speakes in a previous interview. Speakes was Johns’ classmate who marched with her in 1951.

Speakes said she was inspired that “now they are beginning to recognize the work that has been done and the work that has been done by a 16-year-old … I think this will inspire our generations to come to know that someone, at 16 years old, took the stand, and now they are being recognized with a day set aside.”

“Barbara Johns and other students at R.R. Moton High School struggled with leaky ceilings and freezing cold in the winters; parents of black students appealed to the all-white school board, which constructed tar paper shacks to handle the overflow of students,” the resolution states.

According to the resolution, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County was the “only school integration case initiated by a student strike, making Barbara Johns a pioneer in the peaceful protests.”