Jane Cooper Johnson, first African-American to desegregate Richmond schools, honored

RICHMOND, Va. — A civil rights pioneer in the City of Richmond was honored in the Thomas Jefferson High School auditorium Wednesday evening.

Jane Cooper Johnson was the first African American student to integrate Thomas Jefferson High School in 1962. She was also the first African American to integrate Westhampton Junior High School a year earlier.

“It was very challenging, very traumatic,” Johnson said about integrating Richmond schools.

Johnson and her mother were the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit to desegregate schools in Richmond, years after Brown Vs. Board of Education was decided by the U.S.Supreme Court.

Jane Cooper Johnson

“It was very lonely. My peers felt as though I was betraying them. So, I received repercussions on both ends so to speak. That was very challenging for me, so I spent a lot of time alone,” she recalled.

Despite backlash on both ends, she said she always felt like she was doing the right thing.

“If each of us would do what we can individually, personally, to help to make the world a better place, then the world would be a better place,” she said.

More than 50 years later, several classmates, school officials, and friends and family, joined Johnson back at Thomas Jefferson High.

Johnson was honored by her graduating class of 1966 and dedicated with a plaque, installed in her honor.

Jane Cooper Johnson

“It’s indeed an honor and a privilege and I do not take it for granted,” said Johnson.

“She’s really an American hero,” said Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras. “I think her role in desegregating Richmond Public Schools is such a historic piece of our history and I’m just so delighted to be able to be here.”