In the light justice can grow

Published 3:30 pm Thursday, March 5, 2020

Hundreds of community members and visitors throughout Virginia gathered Saturday evening for the Ninth Annual Moton Community Banquet.

Held at the Longwood University Health and Fitness Center, the evening recognized the Robert Russa Moton Museum’s donors and honored local civil rights history. The night featured music by The Southside Jazz Quartet.

Ken Woodley, previous editor of The Farmville Herald and author of “The Road to Healing,” served as the master of ceremonies for the night’s program.

Woodley was later presented with the museum’s Distinguished Service Award.

“The Moton Museum is sacred ground and I have been forever blessed by the companionship of what I call the Moton family: those who launched the Civil Rights movement with their historic strike in 1951, those who persevered through the wounding darkness of Massive Resistance, and all who have joined together since then on a journey of racial reconciliation,” Woodley said.

He continued, “Their companionship brought meaning and healing into my life and I thank them all. What we have achieved together as a family gives me hope that one day we shall, as a nation, overcome the racist forces that strive to divide us.”

The evening featured an array of distinguished guests, and countless individuals were recognized with the museum’s 2019 Family Challenge Awards.

The banquet’s guest speaker was the Honorable Judge John Charles Thomas.

Thomas is a senior partner at the law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP, where he serves as chief of appellate practice. He is also a judge of the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Thomas, at age 32, was the youngest and first black justice appointed to Virginia’s highest court by former Virginia Governor Charles Robb in 1938. He was educated at the University of Virginia, where he graduated with distinction in 1972, and later earned his J.D. from UVA Law in 1975.

Thomas has taught appellate practice at the University of Virginia School of Law and served as a jurist in residence at Gonzaga University. A renowned speaker and lecturer across the nation, he has been the recipient of the NAACP’s Lifetime Image Award and has been a Vision Speaker at James Madison University. He is also a recipient of the Bailes Award from the Virginia Bar Association, and in 2014 was named Distinguished Alumnus of the UVA College of Arts and Sciences.

During his speech Saturday, Thomas referenced Civil Rights activist Barbara Rose Johns Powell, who at age 16 led a student walkout at Robert Russa Moton High School to protest racial inequality. Powell’s actions ultimately inspired a lawsuit that would become one of five cases that the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed in Brown v. Board of Education.

He stated that Powell had light within her to fight the darkness. Thomas, also a poet, included in his address that evening a recital of his poem, “Light the Soul.” A quote from the poem includes:

To those who would hold light in the their hands

There is much to remember, to understand

In the Right Light, Love can shine

In the Right Light, We can leave Wrong behind

By the Light there is good we can know

In the Light Justice can grow: Light the Soul!