Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) proposed last week to declare April 23 “Barbara Johns Day,” in honor of the Virginian and her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. On that day in 1951, Johns initiated a student walkout at Robert Russa Moton High School to protest separate and unequal facilities for black students. If passed, the proposed bill would recognize the contributions Virginians have made toward promoting inclusion in the United States.
Although the lawsuit resulting from Johns’ march was one of many cases related to walkouts which influenced Brown v. Board of Education, hers was the only one to be consolidated into the Supreme Court case. For a student-led operation to have such a significant influence on a Supreme Court case’s resolution makes April 23 a day worth remembering — and that remembrance should center around the 16-year-old girl who started it all, Barbara Johns.
With the controversy recently surrounding the Robert E. Lee statue in Lee Park and what it symbolizes, this commemoration of Johns is not only appropriate, but a welcome symbol of inclusion. As a holiday, Barbara Johns Day would counter Virginia’s role in the Confederacy with the advancements its citizens made during the Civil Rights Movement. The bill would also serve to acknowledge the significant role young people have played in socio-political movements in the United States.
Students at the University and around Virginia can look to Johns as a reminder of their own ability to make change. Our generation now faces an extension of the social problems challenged by the Civil Rights Movement. Current and future students can look to figures like Johns to remember no obstacle is too great for them to overcome.