Johns gains support to replace Lee

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Virginia Commission on Historical Statues continued to work its way toward a decision as to who will join George Washington as the second statue to represent Virginia in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol.

The commission held an hour-long virtual public hearing recently where several speakers virtually presented their individual suggestions.

Barbara Rose Johns

Farmville’s civil rights activist Barbara Johns was mentioned once in the spoken part of the public hearing. The high school student whose walkout of Robert Moton High School to protest the unequal state of education in America sparking the Brown vs. Board of Education decision desegregating schools across the country is in consideration to replace the current statue of Robert E. Lee located in Statuary Hall.

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Alice Lynch, a former executive director of the Virginia Capitol Foundation, spoke before the commission supporting Johns.

“Barbara Johns is significant because she comes to the forefront of history not because of her position, elected position or appointed, or because of military rank,” Lynch said. “She represents the citizen. The citizen who stepped forward to take on a challenging issue. In her case, leading her fellow students at the Moton School to speak out against her inferior, segregated school.”

Lynch pointed out that Johns, who led the walkout of the school at age 16, would be the only teenager in Statuary Hall. Only the Helen Keller statue, depicted when she was 8 years old, would be younger than a potential Johns statue.

“Imagine the 2 to 3 million visitors who will come to the Capitol, many of whom are teenagers. Imagine if they see a young woman of their age who has transformed our civic society,” Lynch said. “To me, there would be no more powerful statement that Virginia could send to stand alongside Washington.”

Johns also received support by email to the commission from citizens in Charlottesville, Waynesboro, Mechanicsville and Roanoke.

George C. Marshall, a former secretary of state and originator of the Marshall Plan after World War II and Civil Rights Attorney Oliver Hill are two of the most often mentioned names by speakers arguing for candidates to replace Lee.

The commission will accept written comments until Nov. 27. A decision on a recommendation is expected to be made and sent to the General Assembly in December. A date for the December meeting has not been scheduled.