In 1951, a walk-out and demonstration -- led by a 16-year-old student named Barbara Johns -- was held by the students of the Robert R. Moton School to protest the intolerable conditions at the school. Legal action followed the protest and led to the federal court case, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (1952), where the students were represented by noted civil rights attorneys Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson. Their case was eventually joined with four other cases and argued before the Supreme Court as Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka , which culminated in one of the most pivotal decisions ever rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Why Moton School
The Commision’s selection of the Moton School protest was in part motivated by the hope that the tens of thousands of students who visit Capitol Square every school year will be particularly drawn to, and moved by, the story of what happened there. The eventual success of these students and their protest has much to teach us today.
As Julian Bond affirmed in the dedication of the civil rights memorial in Montgomery Alabama, “Today, too many of us – young, and old, black and white – believe that we are impotent, unable to influence the society in which we live.” It is hoped that this memorial will bring both children and adults to honor and take pride in the protest of the Moton students, and remind us all that five decades ago their courage and determination helped to bring state-sanctioned segregation to an end.
Commission members also felt that the memorial should acknowledge that these Moton students did not stand alone. They were successful as part of a decades-long collective, non-violent movement, in which the actions of countless individuals across Virginia and the country brought about sweeping legal and societal change.
The Memorial Design
The Commission asked several widely recognized artists to submit design proposals for the memorial, and sculptor Stanley Bleifeld was ultimately chosen. Mr. Bleifeld is a noted American figurative sculptor with experience in public commissions. Initial drafts of his memorial design are below:
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