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Del. Ken Plum: Johns Knew It Was Time to Stand Up

by Del. Ken Plum — March 2, 2017 at 10:15 am 10 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The General Assembly has adjourned its annual session. In future columns, I will write about bills that survived the governor’s veto pen and those that did not.

In the final days of the session, we honored once again a then-young woman named Barbara Johns, who contributed so much to the history of Virginia. On Feb. 23, Gov. Terry McAuliffe dedicated the renovated former Richmond Hotel and now Office of the Attorney General as the Barbara Johns Building. Barbara is also honored on the grounds of the State Capitol with a statue of her, prominently part of the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial.

Her story is a very meaningful one in the civil rights movement in Virginia, and her example of leadership is one that must be emulated today. Barbara attended Robert Russa Moton High School. While the white children in the community went to a brick school, her school was an overcrowded, dilapidated, tar-paper shanty. She was frustrated with the conditions of the facility. She dreamed of a school where the students did not have to keep their coats on all day to stay warm and where classes were not held in the auditorium.

In April 1951, before Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr.’s movements, 16-year-old Ms. Johns organized a strike at her school. She felt her idea to strike was divinely inspired and sought no outside validation for her actions. She was just a junior in high school when she met with several of her classmates to organize. On April 23, 1951, more than 450 Moton High School students walked out of their school and marched to the courthouse and to the homes of local school officials to protest the conditions of their school.

A few days into the strike, the students contacted the NAACP for legal counsel. Civil rights lawyers from the NAACP filed a lawsuit asking for full integration of the county’s public schools. The students who wished to file suit combined their names into a list, and Dorothy E. Davis, the daughter of a local farmer, was the first to add her name. One month later, the NAACP filed Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County in federal court. The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court combined its ruling in the Davis case with four other similar cases to form the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, that declared the segregation of public schools unconstitutional.

Although the Davis case did not result in the desegregation of Prince Edward County’s public schools — it took 10 years and 40 lawsuits to overcome Massive Resistance — Ms. John’s actions were vital for the future of civil rights movements.

In the words of Gov. McAuliffe, “Ms. Johns’ history is a lasting reminder to inspire men and women to fight for justice and equality and reminds us of the enormous impact one person can have when they fearlessly stand up for what they believe is right.”

Barbara Johns stood up to what she knew was wrong. Her example is one that those who ask “what can I do?” must follow today.

  • Mike M

    Ken, why are you and your Dem brethren so hung up on the 1950s? It’s 2017! Your job is to face the challenges of today. Still you recount the 1950s. I know why, Ken. You are pandering to certain constituencies rather than doing your job. It’s easier.

    • Get Real

      Oh nonsense. The General Assembly honored this woman. It’s not Ken’s obsession. Tell the truth: you don’t like Ken because he’s a Democrat and you’re a Republican. He could write about any one of 10,000 subjects and you’d find a way to criticize every one. Own up to your own political viewpoint and bias.

      • Mike M

        Here’s the nonsense: Of all the things about which Ken could take this opportunity to reach out to his full constituency, he picks this. Priorities?

        Wrong! I’m not a Republican. He writes every week. I don’t criticize all of his comments. But the fact remains he generally stays parochial and political in a Saul Alinsky kind of way.

        • The Constitutionalist

          To these morons there’s no separation between a conservative and a Republican, even though they aren’t the same.

    • 1954 Showdown

      Real issues:

      Homeless families.
      Seniors.
      Veterans.

      I dont believe in racism or discrimination, we re humans not colors. 1954 this is not.

      One thing tho, even if i tried to help – say, offered my home to a senior or provided meals to the homeless my efforts would go totally unrecognized. Since I cannot claim them as dependents and since I have no means to claim those expenses from my income tax return there is really only one way these people can be helped!!! And that means the government effectively holds a monopoly on helping and supporting people!!!!!

      Unfortunately we rely too much on people like Ken to help the disadvantaged and that is why our government is deep in depth, our people are suffering and all we can do is watch and throw out money at top heavy institutions like cornerstone and others.

      • The Constitutionalist

        There are many organizations that are very effective at managing their finances and are very effective at making a positive difference in the lives of veterans, seniors, and the homeless.

        Your contributions therefore will be tax-deductible.

        Paws for Purple Hearts
        60 Plus Foundation
        So Others May Eat

        All great programs that I am quite familiar with.

        • 1954 Showdown

          Thanks, ☆☆☆☆☆

          Donations are ok, but taking on this work by yourself pays much greater dividends (although perhaps unrecognized and NOT tax exempt).

    • The Constitutionalist

      He’s just stuck in his glory days.

      • Mike M

        Had he glory days!

  • Guest

    Thank you, Ken. Despite so-called conservatives who claim we exist in an almost entirely post-class, post-bigotry, post-sexism world, the struggle for equal representation of all citizens is still very real.

    We must continue to carefully observe current events with history in mind. We must resist the many astroturfed legislative attempts to force returning to a status quo for America that by all rights never should have been.

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