Black Excellence | Richmond Free Press

We often hear the phrase “black excellence,” especially when black people, individually or collectively, achieve the seemingly impossible.

It’s a fitting reward for the legions of black men, women and young people who come forward and show us their best selves after surviving countless obstacles in their professional or personal lives.

In every issue of the Richmond Free Press, it’s easy to find examples of black excellence because almost every page offers our readers a glimpse of someone somewhere who makes us proud, gives us pause or brings us joy.

Take S. Bernard Goodwyn, who was on the cover of the June 9-11 edition of the Free Press just hours after his inauguration as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia. Chief Justice Goodwyn, 60, was appointed to the court in 2007, unanimously elected by the General Assembly in 2008 and re-elected in 2020. Notably, Chief Justice Goodwyn is the second African American to serve the position of Chief Justice, with the late Justice Leroy H. Hassell Sr. appointed the court’s first black Chief Justice in 2003 until his death in 2011.

From humble beginnings in Southampton County, Chief Justice Goodwyn, a graduate of Harvard University and University of Virginia Law School, became the first African-American judge appointed to the General District Court. of the once all-white, all-male Chesapeake in 1995. Two years later, he was appointed to the Circuit Court. Prior to becoming a judge, Judge Goodwyn handled civil, commercial and civil rights litigation for Wilcox and Savage, a prestigious Norfolk law firm. Although some Chesapeake-area blacks were lukewarm to his first judicial appointment, saying he knew little about the community, Chief Justice Goodwyn quickly won them over.

“I don’t quite understand people’s concerns (about me),” newly appointed Judge Goodwyn told a Norfolk reporter 27 years ago, adding that he had not deliberately tried to draw political favors from anyone. “I always thought I was very involved in the community and will continue to be.”

A more recent decision from the Virginia Supreme Court that shows it remains in tune with the community includes a September 2021 order to remove the 131-year-old statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The lawsuit was filed in 2020 to challenge the then government. Orders from Ralph Northam to remove the statue. The governor’s order came following protests that erupted after George Floyd, a black man, was murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Other triggers that year included the killings of Breonna Taylor, also by law enforcement, in Louisville, Ky., and Ahmaud Arbery by white men near Brunswick, Ga. Richmonders and others reacted vandalizing the statue and demanding its removal.

In making his ruling, Justice Goodwyn wrote that following the wording of a bill drafted nearly a century and a half ago prohibiting the repeal of the law would limit the government’s free speech rights.

“The General Assembly of 1889 had no power to bind in perpetuity the exercise of the word of government by future administrations by the mere expedient of a joint resolution,” Judge Goodwyn wrote in a 26-page opinion. .

“The Commonwealth has the power to cease engaging in any form of government speech when the message conveyed by the expression changes to one which the Commonwealth does not support, even if some Citizens members disagree for, ultimately, the control of the discourse of Commonwealth government must be the electoral process, and not the contrary beliefs of a section of the citizens, or of a nineteenth-century governor and legislature,” he wrote again.

Black Excellence.

The Richmond Free Press also announced in that same June 9-11 issue Dominion Energy and the Library of Virginia’s annual recognition of black men and women who have demonstrated extraordinary talent and tenacity in overcoming obstacles to success. From labor leader Samuel H. Clark, who fought to improve conditions for black railroad workers, to NASA engineer Christyl C. Johnson. Ms. Johnson, executive director of the National Science and Technology Council at the White House from 2008 to 2010, is shaping Goddard’s future spaceflight missions in the fields of planetary, astrophysics, heliophysics and Earth Science. A prolific advocate for STEM education for women and girls, she constantly reminds them that the sky is limitless.

During a June 16 program for this year’s “Strong” honorees, octogenarian Henry L. Marsh, former mayor of Richmond and retired Virginia senator, paid a moving video tribute to his former legal partner Samuel L. Tucker, who was recognized posthumously. Mr. Tucker was part of legal teams that sued to reopen public schools in Prince Edward County when they closed rather than desegregate after Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Mr. Tucker also fought, in court, to end tuition subsidies for white students to attend private academies, his Library of Virginia biography notes. He argued the landmark case of Green v. New Kent County School Board, in which the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1968 that local school boards must immediately implement desegregation strategies. Mr. Tucker’s continual battles for equal justice led to a failed attempt by white lawyers to disbar him in the early 1960s.

Black Excellence.

This spring to summer season of recognizing extraordinary leaders and Commonwealth achievements continues. The work of several Virginians in athletics, education and theater will be highlighted at the Virginia Interscholastic Association Heritage Association Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony on June 24 in Charlottesville.

The Hall of Fame helps preserve the legacy of African American students and adults who participated in the Virginia Interscholastic Association from 1954 to 1970, as well as its predecessor, the Virginia Interscholastic Athletic League, which ensured that that black students in segregated high schools excel beyond the classroom. Among this year’s honorees are two people working to restore or preserve the legacy of their former all-black high schools, Virginia State University’s first female athletic director, a woman who helped develop GPS, two outstanding athletes and a Golden Globe and NAACP Image Award nominee.

Black Excellence.


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