Most Virginians are familiar with the historic life of Barbara Rose Johns, but on the final day of Black History Month 2018 it is important to take a moment and remember a woman whose life changed Virginians and whose legacy inspires us all.
Barbara Johns attended Farmville’s Robert Russa Moton High School during an era that was one of the ugliest chapters in Virginia and American history — the era of segregation. The Moton School had no gym or cafeteria, no fields for kids to play sports. Moton had no plumbing and was heated by wood stoves.
Barbara knew injustice when she saw it…but her complaints that the
all-white public schools in town had significantly better facilities and funding were continuously ignored.
Finally, one of her teachers challenged Barbara and said — that if she wanted real change, she should do something about it. So Barbara didn’t just talk the talk, she walked the walk.
On April 23, 1951, Barbara called for a class assembly and surprised the school administration and most of her classmates when they arrived in the auditorium by asking them to join her in a strike. It worked and more than 400 of her fellow students left class and marched to the steps of the Prince Edward County courthouse and demanded equal education rights.
She was again ignored. Some might have quit there. Some might have given up — but not Barbara Rose Johns, a woman with steel in her spine and righteousness and justice on her side.
With the assistance of the NAACP and local community leaders, Barbara joined in a lawsuit,Davis et al. v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, that would reach the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court of the United States. Eventually, their case would join the historicBrown v. Board of Education of Topeka suit. The decision, which came down in 1954, became a critical victory in the Civil Rights Movement, one that began to change America forever.
But as we all know, the work Barbara Johns started is far from done, and it is up to us, to pick up the torch of justice and freedom and walk in the path that she blazed for us so many decades ago.
As long as we have Republicans in Congress who try to divert money from our public schools to voucher programs that benefit only those who can afford to attend private school in the first place, we must persist, resist and insist.
And as long as these Republicans keep killing legislation that would make it easier for first-generation college students and people of color to be able to afford to go to college, we must persist, resist and insist.
And as long as the Republican Party of Virginia’s current front-runner for their United States Senate nomination proudly flies the confederate at political events, we must persist, resist and insist. Insist on fairness and funding, justice and equality.
This Black History Month we remember the life, the courage, and the sacrifice of Barbara Rose Johns. Her actions inspire us to keep walking the walk, just like she did.