With all of the discussion about which statues should come down and go up around the commonwealth, Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, wants a statue of Booker T. Washington to go up in the Virginia State Capitol.
Suetterlein is asking the General Assembly to set up a commemorative commission to work toward putting a statue of Washington, one of the most influential Black leaders of his time, in the Old Senate Chamber in the Capitol.
“I really believe that Booker T. Washington needs to be honored at Capitol Square,” Suetterlein told the Senate Rules Committee on Friday. “He’s a great American and a great Virginian, and Virginia doesn’t get as much credit as we should for this great Virginian that did so much for this country.”
The Booker T. Washington National Monument in Franklin County preserves the tobacco farm where he was born into slavery in 1856.
After emancipation, when he was 9 years old, Washington moved to West Virginia. He returned to Virginia to study at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, now Hampton University. In the early 1880s, he became the first head of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School in Alabama.
Suetterlein brought a proposal last year to the General Assembly to put a statue of Washington on the grounds outside of the Capitol, but it failed to make it through the legislative process.
Who should be honored at the Virginia Capitol has been a topic of discussion over the past year.
A bill from Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, that passed the House this week directs the Department of General Services to remove the statue of former governor and U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd from Capitol Square and store it until the General Assembly decides how to dispose of it.
Byrd is considered the architect of Massive Resistance, a set of policies that aggressively pushed back against racial integration of public schools following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.
Last summer, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, ordered the removal from the Old House Chamber of the statute of Robert E. Lee and busts of others who fought for or governed the Confederacy.
Virginia is also in the middle of a plan to erect a statute of teenage civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns at the U.S. Capitol, replacing the recently removed statue of Lee, which was one of two statues representing Virginia.
Johns was 16 years old in 1951 when she led a student walkout at Farmville’s Moton High School to protest the students’ substandard segregated school facilities. A lawsuit in that case merged into Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that government-segregated public schools was unconstitutional.