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Sculptor selected to honor memory of civil rights icon Barbara Johns with bronze statue at U.S. Capitol

The statue of the teen who fought for equal education will replace the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, which was removed in Dec. 2020.

RICHMOND, Va. — At just 16 years old, in 1951, Barbara Rose Johns led her classmates in a strike to protest the substandard conditions at her all-black high school in Virginia. Now, she is set to be memorialized with a bronze statue created by renowned Maryland sculptor Steven Weitzman. 

The new statue of the civil rights leader will replace a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, which was removed in Dec. 2020, as one of Virginia's two contributions to the Statuary Hall Collection at the United States Capitol.

Following a lengthy national search, the Commission for Historical Statues in the U.S. Capitol announced Wednesday that Weitzman of Weitzman Studios had been selected for the job. 

Chair Senator Louise Lucas acknowledged that Weitzman was the unanimous choice of the Commission. 

“His obvious passion for this project and his articulation of Barbara John’s legacy evoked an emotional response from the Commission. After his moving presentation, the decision to offer this commission to Weitzman was quickly and easily reached,” said Lucas.

Weitzman already has a bronze sculpture of Frederick Douglass permanently installed in the U.S. Capitol. He is also responsible for a statue of Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion S. Barry, Jr., which is located outside of the John A. Wilson building on Pennsylvania Avenue. 

During Wednesday's meeting, the design concept for the new bronze sculpture was discussed. Officials claim it will show Johns at 16 years old when, in 1951, she led a student strike for equal education at R.R. Moton High School in Farmville. The resulting lawsuit was eventually combined with others before the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in the Brown v. Board of Education ruling concerning desegregation.  

Weitzman's proposed concept depicts Johns on the school stage, standing by a lectern. The spines of books can be seen beneath the wood floorboards and Johns is holding a book in her uplifted hand. 

Officials said this design may be modified after the Commission as well as members of the Johns family provide their feedback.

Once a design has been approved by the Commission, it will be submitted to the Architect of the Capitol and the Joint Committee on Libraries for final approval.

When speaking of the prestigious Johns commission 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."


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