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Recap of Democratic Party of Virginia’s 4th Annual Barbara Johns Panel and Reception This Past Saturday in Richmond

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From the Democratic Party of Virginia:

The Democratic Party of Virginia’s 4th Annual Barbara Johns Panel and Reception was held this past Saturday at the Black History Museum & Cultural Center in Richmond.

In 1951, Johns bravely led a walkout of her tar paper shack school building to protest and draw attention to the inequality in education between African-American students and their white counterparts. With the assistance of the NAACP and local community leaders, Johns was a significant figure in a lawsuit that would join the historic Brown v. Board of Education suit which became a critical victory in the Civil Rights movement. The walkout that Johns led was a major inspiration for the Civil Rights statue on the Virginia Capitol grounds, and last year Johns was honored by the Commonwealth by making April 23rd, the date the walkout took place, Barbara Johns Day in Virginia.

The event celebrated the life and legacy of Barbara Johns and shed a light on the important work still being done by Democrats around the Commonwealth and nation to ensure the civil rights of all Americans. 

The panel was opened by Adele Johnson, Executive Director of the Black History Museum & Cultural Center, and featured the following panelists:

Eric H. Holder Jr.
Eric H. Holder, Jr. serves as Chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. Mr. Holder is an internationally-recognized leader on a broad range of legal issues and a staunch advocate for civil rights. He served in the Obama Administration as the 82nd Attorney General of the United States from February 2009 to April 2015, the third-longest serving Attorney General in U.S. history and the first African American to hold that office.
Under Mr. Holder’s leadership, civil rights, including voting rights, were a top priority at the Justice Department. Mr. Holder vigorously defended voting rights, including the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He criticized politically motivated voter ID laws that were designed to suppress minority and youth votes, and he led the Justice Department’s efforts to overturn these laws around the country.

Including his tenure as Attorney General, Mr. Holder served in government for more than thirty years, having been appointed to various positions requiring U.S. Senate confirmation by Presidents Obama, Clinton, and Reagan. He began his legal career at the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Justice Department. In 1988, President Reagan appointed him to serve as a judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. In 1993, Mr. Holder stepped down from the bench to accept an appointment from President Clinton as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. He held that position until he became the first African-American Deputy Attorney General in 1997. From 2001 until his confirmation as Attorney General, Mr. Holder was a partner at Covington & Burling LLP, where he advised clients on complex investigations and litigation matters. He rejoined the firm in 2015.

Ken Woodley
Ken Woodley, author of The Road to Healing: A Civil Rights Reparations Story, edited the Farmville Herald in Prince Edward County, Virginia, for 24 years. He proposed and led the successful fight for a state-funded scholarship program for the 1959-1964 casualties of county-wide local public school closings in 2003.  In 2006, the Virginia Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists presented Woodley with the George Mason Award “for demonstrating that a community newspaper and a principled editor are relevant and vital parts of civic leadership and that the importance of journalism is not defined by the size of the community or the circulation of the newspaper.”

James Ghee
James was raised in Farmville, VA. Due to the awful schooling conditions in 1950’s Virginia, a young James had the opportunity to go to Iowa and receive the education that was not available to him in Virginia. After graduating from the University of Iowa, James moved back to Virginia and attended UVA Law. After law school, James started working at Hill, Tucker, and Marsh in Richmond but moved home to practice where he became the first African-American attorney in Farmville’s history. Over the decades, James has been an icon in the community: founding the Virginia Legal Aid Society; serving as an active member of the Virginia State NAACP and Parliamentarian of the National NAACP; helping start the Moton Historical Society, and serving as a role model as a devout churchgoer, political adviser, and leader.

Joan Johns Cobbs
Joan Marie Johns Cobbs is the younger sister of Barbara Johns and one of five children born to Violet and Robert Johns in Darlington Heights, Virginia, a tobacco farming community, where she and her siblings tilled the land and sawed down trees to make a living. Joan was a plaintiff in the Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia, part of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Case of 1954. In 2014, Joan was invited to the White House by President Obama to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the case. After graduating from Robert R. Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, Joan attended Howard University and during her career, worked for the Department of Agriculture, Treasury Department, and Department of Justice. Joan has two children, Todd and Melonie, and is the proud grandmother of six grandchildren. She currently resides in South Orange, New Jersey with her husband, Claude Cobbs.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan – Moderator
Jennifer McClellan was elected to the Senate of Virginia in January 2017 and represents Virginia’s 9th Senate District. She serves on the Agriculture, Conservation & Natural Resources, Local Government, and Transportation Committees. Sen. McClellan chairs the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission, is a board member of the Moton Museum, is the Vice-Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, serves as a DNC member, and sits on the DPVA’s Steering and Central Committees. Senator McClellan is a graduate of the University of Richmond and received her Law Degree from the University of Virginia. She lives in Richmond with her husband, David Mills, and their two children, Jackson and Samantha.

Following the panel, a reception was held to support DPVA efforts to flip the Virginia Legislature in November 2019. Eric H. Holder Jr., the 82nd Attorney General of the United States, headlined the reception and discussed his work with guests. Other speakers included Susan Swecker, DPVA Chairwoman, and Dr. Monroe Harris, Black History Museum & Cultural Center Chairman of the Board.

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