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Image of the Virginia State Seal

Commonwealth of Virginia
Office of the Attorney General

Mark Herring
Attorney General

202 North Ninth Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

 

For media inquiries only, contact:  
Michael Kelly, Director of Communications
Phone: (804)786-5874 
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING'S REMARKS AT THE DEDICATION OF THE BARBARA JOHNS BUILDING

RICHMOND (February 23, 2017)-Attorney General Mark R. Herring today delivered remarks at the dedication of the historic Richmond building that houses the Office of Attorney General, which will now be known as the Barbara Johns Building in honor of the Virginia civil rights pioneer whose courageous walkout in 1951 helped lead to the desegregation of public schools. The ceremony also included remarks from Governor Terry McAuliffe, Joan Johns Cobbs, sister of Barbara Johns, and the unveiling of a historic marker with the family and friends of Barbara Johns.

Video of Attorney General Herring's address is available here, and below are his remarks as prepared and delivered:

Change in this Commonwealth and this country has always come when brave individuals stand up and demand their rights.  And so often, it's been led by a young person who can see injustice with clear eyes.

 

In 1951, a young Virginian did an extraordinary thing. Barbara Rose Johns looked at her cramped, dilapidated schoolhouse.

 

She saw an injustice for exactly what it was, and she stood up for what was right.

 

She demanded that which the Constitution guaranteed her, and which her Commonwealth denied her.

 

Just 16 years old, and yet, putting one foot in front of the other, she began a journey that would wind its way to the highest court in the land, facing off against monumental adversaries including her own state government, and generations of "the way things have always been."

 

And in Virginia, there are few things more powerful than "the way things have always been."

 

As Barbara herself said, "it seemed like reaching for the moon."

 

Soon after their courageous walkout, Barbara, her classmates at Moton, their families, and their amazing attorneys from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund found themselves facing off in court against the man who then held this job-the attorney general of Virginia.

 

It's somewhat shocking to remember that in 1952, the Attorney General of Virginia initially won that court case.

 

He won the case, but at what cost and for what gain?

 

Did it advance the cause of liberty to convince the court that segregation was part of Virginia's culture and history?

 

Did it promote justice to argue, against all commonsense and decency, that segregation affected white and black students equally?

 

Did winning that case give one more Virginia child a shot at their dreams?

 

It took the U.S. Supreme Court to make plain what should have been clear all along-that separate is inherently unequal, and that no American should have to suffer the indignity of discrimination, especially when imposed with the sanction of the law.

 

You'll see as you leave here today that the wall behind you bears the words justice, equality, and opportunity.

 

I think about those words a lot-what they mean to us as Americans and to me and my team working on behalf of the people of Virginia.

 

With every decision I make, I try to think about whether we are pursuing justice, promoting equality, and expanding opportunity for all Virginians.

 

Because the Attorney General isn't just the government's lawyer. The attorney general has a special obligation to fight for and protect the people he or she serves.

 

That is why it is so fitting, and even restorative, that the building we call home will bear the name of Barbara Johns and serve as a daily reminder that the injustices of the past must not be repeated.

 

We have come so far since that walkout in 1951, even as we recognize how far we still have to go.

 

It is shameful that Virginia denied so many of her own sons and daughters an opportunity to pursue their dreams and get an education, first through segregation, then the massive resistance to integration that was plotted, in some cases, in this very building during its previous life as the Hotel Richmond.

 

That injustice reverberates through the generations and we still have work to do to heal these wounds.

 

But today, I can't help but feel optimistic and hopeful, as the children and family of Barbara Johns stand side by side with the Governor and the Attorney General of Virginia to dedicate this building in her honor.

 

The Barbara Johns Building will be a lasting, daily reminder to me, my team, all who pass through those doors and all who visit our Capitol that progress is not always linear or inevitable.

 

Change doesn't just happen.

 

Justice requires courage.

 

It is something that we must commit ourselves to every single day.

 

And when we are confronted with injustice, we must not turn away or wait for someone else to fix it.

 

When we are confronted with injustice, we must see it for what it is.

 

We must be like Barbara Johns, and stand up for what is right.

 

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