Editorial – Farmville needs a statue for Johns

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, June 9, 2020

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After Gov. Ralph Northam announced in a Thursday, June 4, press conference that the Robert E. Lee Statue in Richmond would be removed, but the pedestal of the monument would remain, rumors begin to swirl as to who may take Lee’s place on Monument Avenue.

Farmville Civil Rights pioneer Barbara Johns was a name that was on almost everyone’s short list of those worthy to take Lee’s place.

So, why is there not a statue of Johns in our town?

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Johns led her classmates on a strike in April of 1951 to protest the substandard educational conditions and opportunities at Robert Russa Moton High School. Her case was one of five that became Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka which led to the U.S. Supreme Court declaring the segregation of public schools unconstitutional.

The actions of Johns helped change our nation for the better. By shining a light on the inadequacies and failures of segregated educational systems, Johns made the lives of countless minorities better all across our land.

A plaque on the grounds of the Virginia Capitol commemorates the boldness of Johns to work to integrate Virginia’s schools. In 2017, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe renamed a state office building on 9th Street in Richmond in honor of Johns. Also in 2017, the Town of Farmville named the community library after the late Johns, who worked most of her life as a librarian.

That’s just not enough.

Now is the time for the town to plan a statue to Johns in Farmville as a permanent tribute to the trailblazing civil rights leader who shined a light on the fact that separate but equal was anything but equal.

This is not a suggestion that a Johns statue should replace the Confederate Heroes monument on High Street. That situation will be resolved in due time.

A Barbara Johns statue should not replace anything. She deserves her own place of honor unencumbered by memories of what used to be there. That would be the problem with placing her likeness atop Lee’s pedestal in Richmond. That place will always be the place where Lee was. Whatever is placed there will have that as a footnote of their place of honor.

Farmville’s statue of Johns should be in its own place of honor where the community can regularly pass and remember the fire that burned down centuries of inequity and began as a spark in a 16-year-old student right here in our small town.

(The views in this editorial are of The Farmville Herald editorial staff. This editorial was written by Editor Roger Watson. He can be reached at Editor@FarmvilleHerald.com or (434) 808-0622.)