RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A new portrait of Virginia native Barbara Johns has been unveiled at the Office of the Attorney General, marking the latest tribute to the teenage Civil Rights activist.
Activists, state leaders and Johns’ family members all attended to see the portrait unveiled in person. This comes after other memorials have recently gone up in Johns’ honor, including a state plaque and a statue that will ultimately be displaced at the Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol.
Johns is regarded as one of the youngest early leaders of the Civil Rights movement. Johns was 16 years old in 1951 when she led nearly 400 students in a walkout at the all-black Moton High School in Farmville. The walkout was held in protest of poor conditions at the school, including holes in the roof and lack of heat.
The protest took place three years before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that ultimately overturned school segregation nationwide.
Johns and her family faced fierce backlash after the student protest, including threats from the Klu Klux Klan. Johns ultimately had to move out of Virginia for her safety. Later in life, she became a librarian in Philadelphia before dying of bone cancer in 1991 at the age of 56.
Despite Johns’ contribution to the Civil Rights movement, many historians say that she is often overlooked because she was a teenager at the time of the walkout. But many Virginia leaders are now acknowledging Johns’ dedication to the fight for equality, including Governor Glenn Youngkin.
“Barbara Johns exemplified the power of one person who decided to make a difference for everyone,” Youngkin said at the portrait unveiling.
The new portrait of Johns will hang in a new exhibit at the Attorney General’s Office in Richmond. The portrait shows Johns in her purple high school cap and gown and is captioned with her quote “There wasn’t any fear. I just thought, ‘This is your moment, seize it.'”
Attorney General Jason Miyares said that it is important to honor Johns’ legacy at his office so more people know about her heroic achievement.
“I wanted to make sure that people here in Virginia, people who work in the Attorney General’s Office, hear her story and see her story and see what the face of courage looks like,” Miyares said. “That’s the face of courage.”