Teri Kanefield

Why Barbara Johns was Forgotten for so long, and why people are interested now

In 2000, when I first became interested in Barbara Johns and knew I wanted to write a book about her, it seemed like nobody had heard of her.

Taylor Branch, Pulitzer prize-winning author of Parting the Waters: America in the King Years suggested that Barbara’s story was ignored because it was unheard of to credit a child with playing a major part in national politics and history.

Scholars have discussed the “invisibility” of black women. A Shining Thread of Hope, written by Darlene Clark Hine in 1999 mentions Barbara, and explains that black women played a much more important role in American history, including the struggle for civil rights, than they have been given credit for.

Another reason Barbara’s story may have been overlooked may have had something to do with the painful backlash her community suffered when the white community responded with hate and anger to the Supreme Court’s decision. During the backlash in 1960, the Farmville Herald accused Barbara of turning her native county into a battle ground.”

Now, among other things, Barbara has a museum dedicated to her, and an exhibit in the Smithsonian.

I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that America is now comfortable with a young black heroine

I recently came across this article which asserts — surprisingly — that as a society we dislike innovators.

According to this article, we purport to value creativity and innovation, but in fact, risk-takers and those who think outside the box are often shunned and silenced by most people who prefer the ease of the status quo. Viewing the world creatively is supposed to be an asset, even a virtue . . but it’s all a lie.” (emphasis added)

Maybe Barbara Johns is now in the Smithsonian because the ideas she espoused are no longer shocking.