By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
The Department of Historical Resources (DHR) on July 21, selected a sculptor to create a statue of teenage civil rights heroine Barbara Rose Johns to replace General Lee in the Statuary Hall collection at the U.S. Capitol.
A Special Panel selected by the DHR selected the sculptor in an executive session during a meeting at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.
Each state contributes two statues to the hall.
Virginia’s other statue depicts George Washington, the first President of the United States and the military leader of the American Revolutionary Army.
Florida recently replaced the likeness of a Civil War General with an image of educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune
Arkansas plans to switch out one of its two statues for a depiction of civil rights activist Daisy Bates.
Virginia removed the image of Lee from the U.S. Capitol 19 months ago.
A Special Panel selected by the Department of Historic Resources, (DHR) selected the sculptor in an executive session during a meeting at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.
Two finalists presented miniature versions of their proposed visions of the statue to the panel which included State Senator Louise Lucas.
Due to state-imposed procurement rules, members of the commission declined to reveal the chosen sculptor’s name until the state has a signed contract. The panel said it will not extend a contract until the state again signs off on nearly $500,000 in as-yet-unspent appropriations for the project. That budget covers the entire process, from the selection of the artist to the sculptor’s work process, rigging and transportation of the sculpture, and the unveiling ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.
“We talked a lot about it and compared, but in the end, it was unanimous,” Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, a member of the panel, said after the meeting.
Ward noted that she was thrilled when the panel voted in December 2020 to select Johns for the honor. “I couldn’t think it could get any more exciting, but it did today.”
Ed Ayers, a historian and former president of the University of Richmond, said, “It was a really positive, affirming day” and “people are really excited about the choice we made.” In December 2020, the panel — called The Commission for Historical Statues in The United States Capitol — voted to recommend to lawmakers that the state produce a statue of Johns to replace Virginia’s statue of Lee that had stood at the U.S. Capitol for 111 years.
Johns was a 16-year-old student at Farmville’s Moton High School in 1951 when she led a student walkout to protest the students’ substandard, segregated school facilities. The Prince Edward County case was rolled into Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled government-segregated public schools unconstitutional.
Johns went on to graduate from Drexel University, married, raised a family, and worked as a librarian in Philadelphia, where she died in 1991.
The replacement of the status of the Civil War heroes and others who contributed to the Oppression of Black people were moved in response to the Black Lives Matter Movement after the murder of George Floyd.
Photo: Courtesy of Moton High School Foundation