Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Tribute to Barbara Johns

On Friday, September 17, 2010, individuals gathered in House Room 3 of the State Capitol to pay homage to Barbara Rose Johns (1935-1991) because she had been courageous enough to stand up for what she believed in when she was only 16 years old. When people think of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's, they often think of it starting with the Bus Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Indeed, Rosa Parks is often credited with having started that important historical movement, but Barbara Johns had organized a strike at her school, the Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, VA protesting the unfair and unequal conditions that she and her fellow classmates were subjected to because of the color of their skin. That event took place on April 23, 1951, four years before Rose Parks stood up for her rights on the bus in Montgomery.

At the event at the State Capitol on Friday, Governor Bob McDonnell unveiled the portrait that you see above of Barbara when she was a teenager. It is a beautiful portrait and a fitting tribute to Barbara's youthful courage and determination. The portrait will be hung in the Moton Museum in Farmville.

Few people know that Barbara and her fellow classmates organized the strike in protest to their deplorable learning conditions. Following the strike, the help of the NAACP was solicited, and a few years later, the court case that had upheld segregation in Prince Edward County was included with four other cases that became part of Brown v. Board of Education.

Barbara Johns' contribution to the Civil Rights movement is often overlooked because she was so young when she first stood up in an effort to make a difference.

The VEA has been a proud supporter of the Moton Museum for several years now, and in April of this year, I was pleased to offer a preview at our VEA Convention of the film that will be shown at the Moton Museum as part of their regular programming. That film depicts how Barbara and some fellow classmates tricked their principal into leaving the building, forged a memo to teachers announcing an assembly in the auditorium and once the students were assembled, asked the teachers to leave so that their jobs would not be in jeopardy. The film depicts Barbara bravely standing up to the adults in the room who tried to squelch her speech, and she prevailed upon her fellow classmates to walk out of the school in protest to the shabby learning conditions in which they found themselves.

I am proud of the VEA's role in supporting the Moton Museum and its efforts to shine a bright light on how one person CAN make a difference. I was very happy to be included in the ceremony that unveiled the beautiful portrait of Barbara Johns and invite readers to learn more about her courage and determination. Her life is proof that each of us has the ability to make a difference if we just believe that we can and we muster the courage to do it.

Until next time.