State building named after civil rights pioneer

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – The renovated state building that houses the Virginia attorney general’s office will be named after Barbara Johns, a civil rights pioneer who helped end school segregation, Gov. Terry McAuliffe has announced.

“When we name our state buildings after people from our history, we make a statement that the work done within those buildings will advance their legacy,” McAuliffe said last week at Virginia Union University’s 39th Annual Community Leaders Breakfast.

“I am honored to announce that her name will be placed on this beautiful building as a lasting reminder of the enormous impact one person can have when they stand up fearlessly for what is right.”

Johns, who was brought up in the segregated school system of Prince Edward County, organized a student strike at her high school in 1951 to protest the dilapidated classroom conditions and lack of resources compared with the all-white school in the county.

By 1954, Johns’ fight for equality arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court, and her plea was combined with what became the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which declared school segregation unconstitutional.

McAuliffe’s announcement to name the building after Johns was made alongside one of the structure’s new inhabitants, Attorney General Mark Herring.

“Change in this commonwealth and this country has always come when brave individuals stand up and demand their rights, and so often it has been a young person who can still see injustice with clear eyes,” Herring said.

“To me, that’s the legacy of Barbara Johns – a brave young woman who stood up and demanded the rights that the Constitution guaranteed to her and to each of us. I will be proud every single day I walk into the Barbara Johns Building to fight for justice, equality, and opportunity for every Virginian.”

The building, at 202 N. Ninth St., will be formally dedicated at a date to be announced.

The newly modernized building overlooks the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, which features a statue of Johns on the grounds of the State Capitol.

Capital News Service is a student-operated news reporting program sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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