A worthy state holiday
4/20/2018, 7:47 a.m.
We are pleased by Virginia’s inaugural Barbara Johns Day, which will be observed on Monday, April 23.
That is the day in 1951 that the 16-year-old activist led her fellow students on a walkout to protest the deplorable conditions at the all-black Moton School in Prince Edward County.
The valor of the young leader sparked a lawsuit against the county school board over the disparate and shameful lack of resources being put into the black school in the segregated public system.
Those who know important Virginia and U.S. history will recall that the lawsuit, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, was one of the five cases rolled into the Brown v. Board of Education case from Kansas argued by legal giants including Thurgood Marshall, Oliver W. Hill Sr. and Spottswood W. Robinson III. The result was the historic 1954 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the doctrine of “separate but equal” that kept public schools segregated in Virginia and left all-black schools woefully short of resources for a quality education.
The battles for equal and properly resourced education continue today, not only in our city, but across the country. We hope that by remembering Barbara Johns on Monday, we can rededicate ourselves to the principle for which she stood — an equal quality education.
We view the state’s formal creation of Barbara Johns Day as a step in the right direction. But the commonwealth and its leaders need to take a bigger step toward making April 23 an official state holiday to replace the one in January that now honors the white supremacists of the Confederacy.
We find it equally shameful and insulting for Lee-Jackson Day to be held the Friday before the annual Monday holiday in January honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a true hero who believed in freedom, justice and peace.
For Virginia to continue to shut down state offices and give more than 105,000 state employees a paid day off in honor of Confederate traitors who waged a bloody war against the United States government in order to keep black people in human bondage is nothing less than a travesty and a mockery of the more than 300,000 who died — black and white — defending this nation.
A large western portion of Virginia sought to break off from the commonwealth when Virginia seceded from the Union during the Civil War to maintain slavery. That territory became its own state — now known as West Virginia — and joined the Union in 1863. West Virginia now celebrates that day, June 20, as an official state holiday. It celebrates joining the Union, not those who sought to tear it down.
Additionally, the District of Columbia celebrates Emancipation Day on April 16. That’s why federal taxes didn’t have to be filed this year on the usual April 15 deadline.
Emancipation Day recalls the date in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act. It compensated slaveholders in D.C. for freeing their enslaved. An estimated 3,100 human beings were released from bondage on that day in the District of Columbia.
Freedom, equality and justice are principles worth holding up and honoring. Those who have fought for those principles, such as the late Barbara Johns, are people worthy of remembrance and a state holiday.