- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2007

RICHMOND — A monument to a group of spunky teens whose frustration with a subpar schoolhouse helped end school segregation took shape yesterday as Virginia leaders unveiled images of a civil rights memorial planned for the Capitol grounds.

Near the sparkling white statehouse in this former Confederate capital, the former students involved in the 1951 walkout at Robert R. Moton High School in Farmville joined others glimpsing the planned monument: A stone tablet bearing carvings of the students and the attorneys who later linked the school to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.

“We’re here today to honor those Virginians whose actions … five decades ago brought about sweeping changes to our society,” Lisa Collis, the wife of former Gov. Mark Warner, told an audience including Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and famed civil rights lawyer Oliver Hill.

The $2.6 million monument will be unveiled in July 2008.

Mrs. Collis dreamed up the monument while walking the Capitol grounds — a wide, grassy stretch dotted with massive sculptures of Confederate heroes.

Its creation comes as Virginia leaders take stock of the state’s racial past. The results have included a recent slavery reconciliation statue in downtown Richmond and a legislative statement of “profound regret” for slavery that touched off similar measures in Alabama, North Carolina and other former slave-holding states.

“The collective mind-set has certainly changed, in large part because of the actions of students like those at Moton,” Mrs. Collis said. “It’s taken a long time.”

About 50 years ago, Virginia mirrored many Southern states by educating blacks in facilities separate, and often unequal, from those of whites.

Samuel Williams, 73, was a rising senior at Moton back then. He remembered hand-me-down football uniforms, few microscopes and having to eat sandwiches outside since there was no cafeteria at the black school.

When 16-year-old schoolmate Barbara Johns organized a walkout, Mr. Williams was on the front line.

“We tricked the principal [into going] downtown and told him some students were down there acting unruly,” said Mr. Williams, explaining that once the administrator was gone, students gathered and walked out.

When they returned two weeks later, the wheels had been set in motion.

The Farmville case later became one of five gathered into the Brown v. Board of Education case, which ultimately outlawed school segregation.

Mr. Hill argued the case. Now blind, he listened from his wheelchair yesterday as Connecticut sculptor Stanley Bleifeld described the monument’s four sides, one featuring an image of Mr. Hill.

“The spirit of the thing is great,” said Mr. Hill, who recently turned 100.

Mr. Williams sat nearby, a statue of Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson standing defiantly in the distance.

The civil rights monument will sit just a few steps away from the Confederate icon, down a tree-lined path where yesterday, blacks and whites sat together eating lunch.

“We had no idea there would be a Brown v. Board and it would lead to a day like this,” Mr. Williams said. “This is a great and glorious time.”

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