Posted on December 17, 2020

Civil Rights Leader Barbara Johns May Replace Robert E. Lee as a Statue in the U.S. Capitol

Gregory S. Schneider, Washington Post, December 16, 2020

A statue of a Black teenage girl who dared challenge segregation in Virginia schools could soon stand beside George Washington in the U.S. Capitol.

Barbara Rose Johns, who as a 16-year-old in 1951 led a protest of poor learning conditions for Black students in Farmville and helped dismantle school segregation nationwide, has been chosen by an advisory commission to replace Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as one of two figures representing Virginia in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

The choice “represents the values of today’s Virginians,” the commission’s chairwoman, state Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), said in a news release.

The General Assembly must approve the pick for the place of honor alongside Washington, Virginia’s other representative. {snip}


A long menu of suggested names was whittled down to five finalists that the commission considered Wednesday:

  • Johns, whose high school walkout contributed to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education;
  • Oliver Hill Sr., a noted civil rights attorney who argued Johns’s case, which was rolled into the Brown case;
  • Maggie Lena Walker, a Richmond business leader who in 1903 became the first Black woman to charter a bank in the United States;
  • John Mercer Langston, who in 1890 became the first African American to represent Virginia in Congress;
  • Pocahontas, the legendary daughter of the powerful Powhatan chief who encountered the English settlers at Jamestown and is reputed to have saved the life of colonist John Smith.

Northam praised the choice of Johns, saying in a statement that “her idealism, courage, and conviction will continue to inspire Virginians, and Americans, to confront inequities and fight for meaningful change now and for generations to come.”

He proposed spending $500,000 to replace the Lee statue in a state budget presented Wednesday.


In July, the panel voted unanimously that Lee should come down, and Northam notified the U.S. Capitol. {snip}


House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) ordered the removal in July of a life-size statue of Lee and busts of other Confederate figures from the Virginia Capitol’s historic Old House Chamber.