Virginia to replace statue of Robert E. Lee with Barbara Johns effigy

A commission in Virginia has chosen to replace the statue of Robert E. Lee, a leader of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, with one of civil rights activist to Barbara Johns in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo by Sarah Silbiger/UPI

Dec. 17 (UPI) — A commission in Virginia on Wednesday selected to replace the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee representing that state in the U.S. Capitol with an effigy of a black teenage girl who protested segregation.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that the Commission on Historical Statues in the Untied States Capitol had chosen to replace Lee with Barbara Rose Johns whose decision at 16-years-old to walkout of her Farmville high school in April of 1951 would lead to the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court case that declared segregation unconstitutional.

“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,” Northam said in a statement. “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.”

The civil rights icon was selected by the eight-member commission from a list of five finalists, including Oliver W. Hill, a Black attorney who took up Johns’ case; John Mercer Langston, the first Black person to in Virginia to serve as a congressman; Maggie Lena Walker, the first Black woman to establish and become president of a U.S. bank; and Pocahontas, an iconic figure in American history and a mythic character in the narrative of Virginia’s founding.

State Sen. L. Louise Lucas, who chaired the commission, praised the choice in a statement, saying she “represents the values of today’s Virginians.”

On Twitter, she said participating in the decision to replace Lee with Johns “is one of the best experiences of my legislative career.”

Northam announced earlier Wednesday his proposed budge that includes $500,000 to replace the statue of Lee that was donated by the state to the National Statuary Hall Collection in 1909.

The effort to find a replacement kicked off a year ago when two Virginia lawmakers petitioned the Democratic governor to table the issue as the Lee statue “serves as a prevalent reminder of Virginia’s disturbing racial legacy.”

Earlier this year, Northam signed legislation to create the commission with the mission to studying the removal of the Lee statue and a suitable replacement. On July 24, amid nationwide unrest against racial injustice following the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the commission unanimously voted for its removal.

“This has been a truly humbling experience,” said Delegate Jeion Ward said in a release. “Throughout each step in the selection process, we heard the thoughts and opinions from the public as well as from our diverse committee members. I am proud of the decision we made as a commonwealth.”

Northam in June also ordered the removal of a large Confederate statue of Lee from a Richmond monument.

The statute of Lee currently resides in the U.S. Capital alongside one of the country’s first president, George Washington as Virginia’s contributions to the National Statuary Hall Collection where two statues from each state are on display.

The governor’s office said the Lee statue will be removed in the coming days and the commission will next select a sculpture to create the statue of Johns.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., renewed her call in June to remove 11 statues depicting Confederate soldiers and officials on display in the hall in Washington, D.C.


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