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Congressman Bobby Scott

Representing the 3rd District of Virginia

RECOGNITION OF BARBARA JOHNS DAY

April 25, 2018
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join my colleague from Virginia, Congressman Garrett. I want to thank him for organizing this evening's Special Order, but first I want to commend him for his work as a Virginia State senator for making April 23 Barbara Johns Day in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

   This April 23, Monday, marked the first official recognition of this important day in the Commonwealth. 

   Almost 64 years ago, the Supreme Court struck down lawful school segregation in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. What few people know is that Virginia was one of the four cases decided that day. There were three other States, and Washington, D.C., had another case that was decided the same day. 

   Virginia's involvement in Brown v. Board of Education stood out because that effort was led by a student, namely Barbara Johns. She was only 16 years of age. This stalwart figure in the struggle for equal education stood up to challenge the notion that African Americans should receive separate and unequal education under the law. 

   Barbara Johns grew up in Farmville, Virginia, and attended Robert Russa Moton High School, an all-Black school serving more than 450 students despite the fact that the facility was designed for only 180. 

   She described the inadequacies of the school as having shabby equipment, no science laboratories, no separate gymnasium. Conditions were so bad at the high school that, in 1947, even in Jim Crow Virginia, the State offered money to improve the school, yet the all-White Prince Edward County School Board refused to accept the State's funding. 

   Barbara took her concerns about the school to a teacher, who responded by asking her to do something about it. 

   After months of contemplation and imagination, she began to formulate a plan. Seizing on the moment, on April 23, 1951, Barbara Johns, a 16-year-old high school student, led her classmates on a strike to protest the substandard conditions at Robert Russa Moton High School. 

   Her leadership and advocacy ultimately garnered the support of NAACP lawyers Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill to take up her cause and the cause of more equitable conditions at Moton High School. 

   After meeting with the students and the community, they filed suit in Federal court in Richmond, Virginia. 

   The Virginia case was called Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, and, in 1954, Davis became one of the four cases decided in the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. 

   There is a saying that ``courage is not the absence of fear, but the assessment that something else is more important.'' Her courage led to the powerful language in the Brown decision that still rings true today. 

   In the case, the Court said: 

   ``Today, education is perhaps the most important function of State and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the Armed Forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today, it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the State has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms. 

   ``We come, then, to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other `tangible' factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.'' 

   And the Court concluded: ``We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of `separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.'' 

   Those powerful words were provoked by the courage of Barbara Johns and others like her who led the charge to bring the cases to the Supreme Court. 

   The example of Barbara Johns should serve as an example for all of us. She did not sit on the sidelines, and neither should we. 

   We should speak out when we see injustice, we should act when we see inequity. The best way to honor her legacy is to act in the same spirit that she did. 

   Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Virginia (Mr. Garrett), for providing an opportunity to remind us of our obligation to do the right thing.