Remembering Barbara Johns
This morning we dedicated one of our newly renovated state buildings to an incredible Virginian, Barbara Johns. Additionally, I am happy to announce that April 23 will now be known as Barbara Johns Day in Virginia. If you do not already know, Barbara Johns was one of the pivotal figures in the Civil Rights Movement. She is best known for leading a student protest against the unbearable school conditions in her high school. Her actions led to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which desegregated schools all across America.
As a sixteen-year-old eleventh grader at Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Barbara noticed that the conditions of her high school were unfit and highly unequal to the all-white Farmville High School. She worked with several classmates and took it upon herself to organize a protest in the form of a strike on April 23, 1951.
Following the April 23 protest, Barbara sought legal counsel from the NAACP, who agreed to provide assistance as long as the lawsuit challenged the segregated school system. She was able to persuade parents opposed to the suit that this was the right thing to do. The parents in turn supported the students’ strike. This case became one of the five that the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed in Brown v. Board of Education, when it ruled segregation unconstitutional three years after Barbara’s protest. Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, was the only school integration case initiated by student strike.
Today at the dedication, we were fortunate to hear her sister, Joan Johns Cobbs, read pieces of Barbara’s diary out loud. According to Joan, “Barbara did what she did because she was a strong, brave, courageous person.” Her testament to her older sister’s bravery and initiative was beautiful. Barbara’s case helped form the foundation for the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling. She was a true pioneer for the Civil Rights Movement, not only here in Virginia, but nationwide. We as Virginians should always look to the actions of Barbara Johns, an incredibly brave young girl from Prince Edward County. We gathered today to remember this woman and her legacy as we named this building in her honor. Barbara remains an unsung American hero and I am so glad she is being recognized in memoriam for her heroic actions.