Statue of Civil Rights Activist Barbara Rose Johns Will Exchange U.S. Capitol’s Likeness of Robert E. Lee | Sensible Information

Early Monday morning, workers removed a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the United States Capitol, where it had stood as a representative of Virginia since 1909. According to a statement from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s office, a sculpture by civil rights activist Barbara Rose Johns will replace Lee’s resemblance and represent Old Dominion State alongside George Washington.

As one of 100 sculptures in the National Statuary Hall Collection, which includes two contributions from each state, the Lee statue was housed in the Capitol Crypt where it was installed alongside 12 other works representing the 13 original colonies. (Due to lack of space, only 35 sculptures from the collection are in the hall of the same name; the rest is spread throughout the historic building.) The statue is now being moved to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond.

“We should all be proud of this important step forward for our Commonwealth and our country,” Northam said in the statement. “The Confederation is a symbol of Virginia’s racist and divisive history, and it is time we told our story with images of perseverance, diversity and inclusion.”

That summer, Northam set up a commission of eight to remove and replace the statue. On December 16, the group selected Johns to replace Lee. If the Virginia General Assembly ratifies the decision, officials will hire an artist to create the new sculpture.

Early in the morning, I witnessed the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from the US Capitol.

It was a historic and overdue moment.

I am proud that the work @RepMcEachin & I that I started a year ago led to this. We deserve to be represented by a character who truly embodies Virginia’s values.

– Rep. Jennifer Wexton (@RepWexton) December 21, 2020

In recent years, Lee has become a central figure in the public works debate in honor of slave owners, the Confederation, and other controversial politicians. As one of the most prominent leaders of the Confederation, the commander led soldiers into the battle of Antietam, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg.

Lee held slaves and struggled to keep them. He claimed that slavery was essential to maintaining social order in the south. In an 1856 letter to his wife, the military officer elaborated on these views, deciphered abolitionists, and referred to what he described as “the systematic and progressive efforts of certain people in the North to disrupt and change the internal institutions of the South”. As Roy Blount Jr. pointed out in the July 2003 issue of Smithsonian magazine, Lee’s views on the subject were “ambiguous at best” – in the same 1856 letter he admitted that slavery was “a moral and political evil in every country.” . ”

The Capitol’s Lee statue is far from the first to spark debate: this summer, a prominent Lee equestrian monument in Richmond became a controversial hub amid widespread protests against systemic racism. Activists later sought to reclaim the Confederate symbol by plastering the base with colorful graffiti and projecting images of victims of police brutality onto the pedestal.

Although Northam ordered the removal of the 21-foot bronze sculpture in July, some setbacks have delayed the process. Despite these obstacles, the governor continues to campaign for the removal of Confederate monuments across Virginia. Its proposed budget for the coming fiscal year is $ 25 million for the remodeling of historic monuments across the state. Around $ 11 million will be used to reinvent the Confederate statue-lined Monument Avenue of the capital, Virginia.

“Confederate images don’t represent who we are in Virginia. [and] That is why we voted unanimously for the removal [the Capitol] Statue, ”said State Senator Louise Lucas in the statement. “I’m thrilled that this day has finally come.”

Barbara Rose Johns’ high school graduation portrait

(Courtesy Motown Museum)

Johns, the activist whose resemblance will replace Lee in the nation’s seat of government, has been a key figure in the fight against school segregation. In April 1951, at the age of 16, she led 450 classmates in a strike protesting poor conditions at the all-black Robert Russa Moton High School in Virginia.

According to the New York Times Lance Booth, John’s school lacked laboratories, a gym, a cafeteria, and other basic functions that were now taken for granted. After a teacher answered her complaints, she asked, “Why don’t you do anything about it?” Johns and her younger sister, Joan Johns Cobbs, decided to organize a strike. Students boycotted the school for two weeks and only returned after the local superintendent made vague threats against their families.

Undeterred, Johns decided to take legal action. Her case was eventually consolidated with four others to form Brown v Board of Education, the 1954 appeal that led the US Supreme Court to declare separate schools unconstitutional.

“Before the sit-ins in Greensboro, before the Montgomery bus boycott, there was a student strike here in 1951, led by Barbara Johns,” Cameron Patterson, who runs a museum on the former high school site, told NPR’s Steve Inskeep.

Johns, who was forced to move in with an uncle in Montgomery after being threatened because of her role on strike, studied library science at Drexel University. She “lived the rest of [her] Living out of the Spotlight, ”according to the Times, and died of bone cancer in 1991 at the age of 56.

“When I think of Barbara Johns, I am reminded of how brave she was at such a young age,” said State Delegate Jeion Ward, a member of the Statues Commission, in the statement. “It’s time for us to sing the songs of some Virginians who did great things that went unnoticed. This is a proud moment for our community and I am humble to have been a part of it. “

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