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Preliminary Model of Virginia’s Barbara Rose Johns Statue for U.S. Capitol Approved

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Barbara Rose Johns maquette
The Barbara Rose Johns maquette as seen inside the sculptor's studio. Photo credit: Julie Langan/DHR.

A forthcoming full-size statue of the civil rights leader will join the statue of George Washington in the United States Capitol depicting the history of Virginia and the values of her citizens.

By DHR Staff

In July, nearly three years after former Governor Ralph Northam sent a letter to the Architect of the Capitol requesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue representing Virginia in the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol, Julie Langan, Director of the Department of Historic Resources (DHR), received official notification that the Joint Committee on the Library has approved the maquette of civil rights leader Barbara Rose Johns, which will allow plans to create a full-size model of Johns for the National Statuary Hall to proceed.

“Commissioning a statue for placement in the U.S. Capitol is a monumental undertaking,” Langan explains. “We knew from the outset that this would be a lengthy process, as it should be for something so enduring and impactful. All involved are pleased with our progress and that we are a bit ahead of schedule.”

The decision to select Johns for the replacement statue was approved in December 2020 by the Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol, a group tasked to oversee the process of removing the Lee statue from the National Statuary Hall and finding its replacement. The Commission is made up of eight appointed members including Virginia legislators, citizens, as well as Director Langan, who serves as the group’s ex officio with nonvoting privileges. In 2020, the Commission compiled 100 names of historical figures significant to the state’s history for a replacement statue. The names had been recommended to the Commission by members of the public. After much deliberation, Commission members chose Johns out of five finalists for the replacement statue. In the summer of 2021, the Joint Committee on the Library approved the Commission’s request to erect a statue of Johns in the Statuary Hall.

Barbara Rose Johns maquette
The Barbara Rose Johns maquette as shown from the sides. Photo credit: Julie Langan/DHR.

Barbara Rose Johns was born in New York City on March 6, 1935. Her parents had moved to the North during the Great Migration. As a child, Johns resettled in Prince Edward County in Virginia with her family during World War II. In April 1951, when she was just 16 years old, Johns led fellow students on a walkout at Robert Russa Moton High School, their segregated school in Farmville, to protest its dilapidated facilities and overcrowded conditions. Johns’s efforts caught the attention of Virginia NAACP attorneys Spottswood Robinson III and Oliver W. Hill, who agreed to assist with the case if the students sued for integration rather than maintain separate but equal facilities. The resulting lawsuit, Dorothy Davis et al v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia, became one of five cases reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court for its 1954 landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka declaring school segregation unconstitutional. Johns was sent to live with relatives in Alabama after the student walkout at Moton High School. She attended Spellman College in Atlanta, Georgia, before graduating from Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She went on to work as a librarian for the Philadelphia Public Schools. Johns married the Rev. William Powell, with whom she raised five children. She died in 1991.

In January, the Commission announced that Maryland sculptor Steven Weitzman of Weitzman Studios, Inc., had been selected to create the Johns statue. Weitzman was previously involved with several prestigious projects. His well-known pieces include a bronze sculpture of the 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass, which was installed in the Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol in 2013. Weitzman’s bronze sculpture commemorating the life and work of Marion S. Barry, Jr., the polarizing mayor of Washington, D.C., for four terms starting in 1979 to the late 1990s, was permanently installed outside the John A. Wilson building on Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C. in 2018.

Explaining his passion for the Johns project, Weitzman said, “Barbara Rose Johns led an extraordinary act of non-violent civil disobedience, which helped to ignite the American Civil Rights Movement. As was the case for numerous Black youths of the Jim Crow era, this brave young woman has not been celebrated in the great halls of America until now."

Barbara Rose Johns maquette
Closeups of the Barbara Rose Johns maquette. Photo credit: Julie Langan/DHR.

Since the Johns maquette received approval in July, work has already begun on the full-scale model, which is the next step in a multi-step approval process. After completion, the model will be submitted for approval to the Commission before being forwarded to the Architect of the Capitol and the Joint Committee on the Library for their approval. Once these approvals are in hand, the statue will be produced in bronze. It will then need to go through the same three-step approval process for the last time before plans can be made for its installation. The statue’s unveiling at the U.S. Capitol is expected to take place sometime late next year.

To keep up with the latest updates on the Johns statue or to learn more about the Commission for Historical Statues in the U.S. Capitol, visit here.

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