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A living proof and a living hope

At the dedication of the Barbara Rose Johns Farmville-Prince Edward Community Library on Sunday, Ken Woodley, former editor of The Farmville Herald, delivered a speech entitled, “In the Footsteps of a Dream.” Though he is no longer affiliated with the paper, his words echo our perspective in so many ways in relation to Johns, the renaming of the library in her honor and the healing of our community.

Following are some excerpts from Woodley’s speech: 

“What a truly good day this is, a Sunday where we share this communion together. I commend the Town of Farmville, town council and town officials who have made this communion possible, a communion that speaks to the transforming journey that is possible in this world when people are committed to becoming founding fathers, founding mothers, founding brothers and sisters, together in nation still striving for a more perfect union.”

“… And Barbara, truly one of this nation’s founding mothers, had such a powerful dream. She believed that the storybook ending could come true. She believed that we would live happily ever after. But the world isn’t always so kind to dreams. Fairy tale endings, even when based on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America, are most often confined to fairy tales. After leading the historic strike that gave birth to the civil rights movement on April 23, 1951, Barbara Rose Johns had to leave Prince Edward County. A cross was burned at Robert R. Moton High School, and there was a sense of danger all around. Suddenly, she was just gone, off to live with relatives in Alabama, leaving even her best friends wondering what had happened. Three years later, the Johns home in Darlington Heights was completely destroyed by arson after the U.S. Supreme Court had validated the dream of Barbara Rose Johns with its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. Prince Edward County’s Massive Resistance to the Brown decision turned the dream of Barbara Rose Johns into a nightmare — but not forever. Her dream is alive and well and standing in our shoes. The decision by the Town of Farmville to rename this fabulous, state-of-the-art library in honor of Barbara Rose Johns, who spent her entire adult life as a librarian in the Philadelphia public school system, is a milestone moment, a mile marker showing how far the dream has traveled since 1951. It joins the Moton Museum and Prince Edward County’s Light of Reconciliation as an indelible moral marker of this community’s progress, and it joins them as an example to a nation still so deeply divided over race. The Barbara Rose Johns Farmville-Prince Edward Community Library will forever speak with emphatic clarity: ‘We shall overcome those who attempt to divide us over the God-given color of our skin.’”

“Today, there is a Johns family home in Darlington Heights built on the exact spot where the flames of arson had burned down the home where Barbara dreamed her dreams. Wondrously, despite everything that had happened to drive her away, it was Barbara herself who had insisted that her brothers and sister rebuild their home place in Prince Edward County. … Barbara wanted the family to have a home to come back to when they returned to Prince Edward County to visit friends, and, as it turns out, to celebrate this community’s ongoing journey of racial healing and reconciliation, a journey that offers living proof and living hope, not only to the nation but also the world, that our lives, that we ourselves can become human bridges across the deepest chasms. …”