RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - This week marks 61 years since a historic sit-in held in Downtown Richmond. The Richmond 34 - a group of Virginia Union University students - peacefully protested the injustice of the time.
Wednesday, the Richmond Flying Squirrels announced a campaign to celebrate the legacy of the Richmond 34.
On Feb. 22, 1960, 34 students were arrested for trespassing, after refusing to leave the segregated Thalhimer’s lunch counter. Local historians say it was the first mass arrest of a movement and changed the course of history.
The Flying Squirrels will be permanently retiring the No. 34 to honor the Richmond 34′s legacy. It is the second number retired by the team, joining Jackie Robinson’s No. 42, which was retired by Major League Baseball in 1997.
“The Richmond 34 are heroes in the push for civil rights,” Flying Squirrels CEO Todd “Parney” Parnell said. “We are more than thrilled to celebrate their legacy and tell their story to new generations, working hard together to positively affect our community 12 months a year.”
A Richmond 34 Legacy Mural, painted by Andre Shank, was dedicated at The Diamond. The Richmond 34 Legacy mural is positioned on The Diamond’s upper façade directly behind the home plate and stretches 100 feet wide and 20 feet tall. It will be visible to all fans who enter The Diamond gates, as well as drivers passing by on Arthur Ashe Boulevard and south-bound travelers on Interstate 95.
“We were just trying to do our part in bringing about desegregation in the city of Richmond,” said Rev. Dr. Leroy Bray, a member of the Richmond 34. “There are not words to express that, I am so thankful.”
Wendell Foster, also a member of the Richmond 34, says it is an honor to have the City of Richmond honor the legacy.
“If you go back in history 61 years, in our own way we were trying to speak truth to justice, truth to power, trying to say that there are things that are wrong that need to be changed,” said Foster. “It is an honor and mindboggling.”
Elizabeth Johnson Rice, a member of the Richmond 34, will serve as a community ambassador for the Flying Squirrels.
Rice and the team will collaborate on educational and community outreach programs to tell the story of the Richmond 34. She recently spoke with elementary students virtually, reading her book about the Richmond 34, “Sit-In and Stand Out.”
“That was the first time Nutsy and I appeared on virtual with them. Nutsy turned the pages as I told the story,” said Rice. “I am elated that this is happening. I knew the Richmond 34 - that we were going to do more, I just didn’t know what door it was coming through.”
In partnership with Virginia State University and Virginia Union University, the Flying Squirrels will offer students at both institutions opportunities to gain professional experience working with the organization in various capacities.
While the dates have not been announced, The Flying Squirrels will host a two-day “Richmond 34 Legacy Weekend” this year to celebrate the Richmond 34 and how they contributed to the Civil Rights Movement, as well as other local leaders both past and present.
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