Jan 31, 2024 - News

New sculpture memorializes Richmond schools' integration

A pic of Jane Cooper Johnson smiling in front of a steel sculpture.

Jane Cooper Johnson standing in front of the "Strides" sculpture unveiled Tuesday. Photo: Courtesy of Bon Secours

At 12 years old, Daisy Jane Cooper — now Jane Cooper Johnson — was the first Black student at Richmond's Westhampton School in 1961, seven years after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling for school desegregation.

Driving the news: On Tuesday, Bon Secours and Thalhimer Realty Partners unveiled a 12-foot-tall sculpture commemorating Cooper Johnson's place in the racial integration of Richmond's public schools.

  • Cooper Johnson was also the first Black student at Thomas Jefferson High School.

Details: Located on the corners of Libbie and Patterson Avenue where the once all-white Westhampton School stood, "Strides" is a steel sculpture made up of two plus signs facing each other as a symbol of integration.

  • The goal, per a release, is for viewers to walk through the sculpture and sense the pressure Cooper Johnson felt on the first day of school.
  • Matt Lively and Tim Harper were the local artists behind the piece.

Flashback: Cooper Johnson attending Westhampton was a result of her mother, Elizabeth, being a plaintiff in a three-year-long federal lawsuit filed by legendary civil rights attorney Oliver W. Hill Sr. in 1958.

  • Two years earlier, Virginia adopted a policy of Massive Resistance in 1956 to block desegregation.
  • By 1964, a decade after the Brown decision, only 5% of Black students statewide were attending integrated schools, according to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.

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