RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - It has been 60 years since 200 Virginia Union University students took a stand against racism, marching from their campus to the segregated lunch counter at the Thalhimer’s Department Store.
“[It was] under-reported, unsung if you will - carried out by the most unlikely of individuals," explained Dr. Raymond Hylton, a history professor at Virginia Union University.
On Feb. 22, 1960, 34 students were arrested for trespassing, after refusing to leave the lunch counter. The protest was peaceful, and so was the arrest of the students. Hylton says it was the first mass arrest of a movement that changed the course of history.
They came in there with their textbooks - they were doing their homework while protesting," said Dr. Kimberly Matthews.
The Supreme Court overturned their convictions in 1963, but in 2018, it was discovered that the records of the Richmond 34 were never expunged. That changed in February 2019 when the records of several 34 members who live near or in the Richmond area were officially expunged.
“I love speaking to people who have such rich history and they’re still around to share it and pass it down to the next generation," said Dr. Matthews.
Dedicated to making sure the story continues to get passed down, Dr. Matthews and Dr. Hylton wrote a book, published ahead of the 60th anniversary of the historic day, entitled “The Richmond 34 and the Civil Rights Movement.”
“I feel exhilarated every time I speak to one of them and I learn something new,” said Dr. Hylton.
The book details the events that led up to Feb. 22, 1960, as well as how Richmond changed in the years that followed.
“We walked out of the side door to hundreds of people on the sidewalk smiling and proud of us, and that’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks - oh my gosh - this is what this has meant. We stood up for people who could not stand up for themselves today," explained Elizabeth Johnson Rice, a member of the Richmond 34.
Johnson Rice says she will always remember the day. She was arrested alongside her brother, Ford.
“My father and my mother were very happy that two of their children got arrested for a great cause,” she explained.
Throughout the last six decades, Johnson Rice has made it her mission to keep the history alive. She is always willing to speak to students and members of the community.
In 2018, Johnson Rice’s cousin wrote and illustrated a book about her experience. Johnson Rice says she wants to see her book, 'Sit In and Stand Out’ as well as 'The Richmond 34 and the Civil Rights Movement’ given to every new student at Virginia Union University.
“People say, ‘what would you tell your younger self?’ That there will be many more occasions for you to do something to serve this world," said Johnson Rice. “I’m willing to go the second mile, third mile, whatever it takes.”
On Feb. 21, 2020, Dr. Kimberly Matthews and Dr. Raymond Hylton will moderate a panel at an event honoring the Richmond 34 at Virginia Union University.
The event, called “Honoring the Unsung,” will take place on the first-floor auditorium of the L. Douglas Wilder Library and Learning Resource Center at Virginia Union University.
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