A quiet gasp was heard as the drape was withdrawn from the portrait of Barbara Rose Johns in Richmond on Friday, September 17, 2010. Robert Russa Moton Museum Director Lacy Ward Jr. was among the family, friends, and fans of the late Moton School Student Leader Barbara Johns as they gathered for a dedication of the portrait that will hang in the statehouse until April 2011. It will then be moved to its permanent home in a place of honor at Moton Museum in Farmville.
Governor Bob McDonnell spoke about Barbara Johns’ inspiring actions on April 23, 1951 that led to the student strike and subsequent legislation that ended school segregation. He reminded everyone that he said of her in his inaugural address, “Barbara Johns was willing to risk everything for the simple opportunity of a good education. Surely, 60 years later we can work together to provide that opportunity to all Virginia children.”
According to Library of Virginia Special Collections Director Tom Camden who attended the moving event, “The portrait came to our attention when Lacy Ward Jr., director of the Moton Museum approached the Clerks [of the House and Senate] in early summer regarding the installation of the portrait in the Capitol during the nearly nine month period when the Moton Museum was undergoing renovation. The Clerks asked me to recommend an appropriate spot in the Capitol and to work with Ward on the logistics (framing, photography, etc.). The idea to have the Governor unveil the portrait took hold after the Governor generously gave $10,000 last spring, left over from his campaign fund.
“There was an overflow crowd [at the event] with an abundance of dignitaries from all walks of life. After a powerful invocation by one of Barbara Johns’ friends, the Reverend Samuel Williams, the Governor made one of the most eloquent speeches I’ve ever heard. The drape was officially pulled by one of Barbara Johns’ daughters, but in attendance were another daughter, her sister, and at least two of her brothers along with collateral family members and friends.”
The portrait is displayed in the busy first floor reception area at the Capitol where it will be seen by thousands of visitors, including school students, who tour Thomas Jefferson’s designed statehouse every year. The artist is Louis Briel, known for his portrait of the late Richmond native and tennis champ Arthur Ashe that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. The portrait features Barbara Rose Johns as she looked as a 16 year old in April 23, 1951, with her books at her school desk. One look at this likeness tells you that Barbara Rose Johns will continue to inspire others through this portrait and the legacy of her heroic actions.
Photos courtesy of the Office of Governor Robert F . McDonnell, photo credit: Michaele White.
Read more about this online:
Portrait of civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns unveiled at Capitol, Washington Post
Portrait of Farmville girl who led 1951 student strike unveiled at state Capitol, The Roanoke Times