Commission votes for statue of civil rights icon to replace Robert E. Lee at the U.S. Capitol

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol voted for a statue of civil rights icon Barbara Rose Johns to replace Confederate general Robert E. Lee in the National Statuary Hall Collection, according to an announcement from Governor Ralph Northam.

Earlier this year, Northam signed legislation that established the commission. The group of eight people was charged with determining whether or not the Lee statue should be replaced, and if so, what should be used to represent Virginia.

Five months ago the commission unanimously voted to recommend removing the statue of Robert E. Lee from the National Statuary Hall.

“The Commission has undertaken a very thorough and deliberate process to select a historical figure who represents the values of today’s Virginians,” said Senator Louise Lucas. “I thank the members for their dedication and determination to reach this difficult and impactful decision.”

Who is Barbara Rose Johns?

The governor’s announcement said in 1951, then 16-year-old Johns led a student walkout at Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, to protest the overcrowded and inferior conditions of their all-Black school compared to those of White students at nearby Farmville High School.

Johns was supported by NAACP lawyers who took up her cause and filed a lawsuit which would later be one of the five cases the United States Supreme Court reviewed in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

The governor’s statement said historians consider Johns’ protest a pivotal moment that launched the desegregation movement in America.

As a teenager, Barbara Johns bravely led a protest that defied segregation and challenged the barriers that she and her African American peers faced, ultimately dismantling them. I am proud that her statue will represent Virginia in the U.S. Capitol, where 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.”

Governor Ralph Northam

Each state gets two statues in the Hall and Robert E. Lee and George Washington had represented Virginia in the since 1909. According to the governor’s announcement, if the General Assembly approves this new statue, Johns would be the only teenager represented in the collection.

The governor’s office said the statue of Robert E. Lee will be removed from the Capitol soon and the Commission will select a sculptor and commission a statue of Barbara Johns. In the budget Northam proposed today, he included nearly $500,000 for the new statue.

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