The goddaughter of local civil rights heroine Barbara Johns will return to Farmville this month to mark Longwood’s annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sydney Trent, a veteran Washington Post journalist who is also the granddaughter of civil rights pioneer and Prince Edward native Vernon Johns, will deliver the keynote address during Longwood’s weeklong celebration centered on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Given her Johns-family ties to Farmville and this area, she is a fitting speaker to deliver this year’s keynote address and to encourage students to think critically about their role in society as citizen leaders.

Dr. Jes Simmons, assistant director of citizen leadership and social justice education Tweet This

Trent is the social issues editor at the Post and has close family ties to Prince Edward County and Farmville’s pivotal place in the civil rights movement. Her godmother and her mother’s first cousin was Barbara Johns, the student who led a walkout at R.R. Moton High School in 1951 to protest the substandard conditions of the school. Trent’s grandfather, Vernon Johns, was a minister at several black churches in the South and is best-known as the pastor who preceded King at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

“Sydney has been on the front lines shaping the Washington Post’s coverage of the complex social issues of the past two decades. We are fortunate to have her share her wisdom and experience with our community,” said Dr. Jes Simmons, assistant director of citizen leadership and social justice education, who helped to organize MLK Week. “Her address will challenge us to think more broadly and inclusively about the issues of diversity our country faces today. Given her Johns-family ties to Farmville and this area, she is a fitting speaker to deliver this year’s keynote address and to encourage students to think critically about their role in society as citizen leaders.”

My most vivid memory is of being shoved into a closet as an 8-year-old by a classmate and her brother, who worried what a visiting aunt would do if she found a black girl in their house.

Sydney Trent, veteran Washington Post journalist Tweet This

Trent’s address will focus on the importance of morality and mountaintop imagination in American history and present-day culture, using the lives and words of Vernon Johns, Barbara Johns and King as illustrations. Her speech will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 22, in Jarman Auditorium from 7-9 p.m. The event is free, and community members are invited to attend along with students, faculty and staff. A reception following the address will be held in the rear lobby of Chichester Hall.

Trent began her career at the Washington Post two decades ago as deputy Maryland editor. She later worked as deputy editor of the Washington Post Magazine during a period when it won two Pulitzer Prizes for feature writing. As a senior editor for the past 10 years, Trent has edited and led the Post’s coverage of the issues of poverty, inequality, demographics, religion, immigration, work life, gender and aging.

In 2004, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision, Trent penned a Washington Post Magazine story about her family’s history in the civil rights movement that highlighted the Barbara Johns story. Trent also gave her personal account of the racism she faced growing up in the mostly white suburbs of Northern Virginia in the post-Brown era of integrated schools.

“My most vivid memory is of being shoved into a closet as an 8-year-old by a classmate and her brother, who worried what a visiting aunt would do if she found a black girl in their house,” Trent wrote. “I wish I’d had Barbara’s presence of mind, then, and chosen anger over shame.”

Later, as a student at the University of Virginia in the early 1980s, she confronted issues related to race at a time when the school was struggling to attract minority students. Still, she conceded: “I know the more subtle racism my generation has faced is not as bad as the overt racism Barbara confronted so boldly in 1951.”

Trent’s keynote address is one highlight of this year’s MLK Week events, which also include the annual MLK Service Challenge and a bus trip to Washington, D.C., for the 2019 Women’s March.


A full schedule of events is below:

Saturday, Jan. 19—Women’s March in D.C. Bus Trip. Students, faculty, staff and community members are invited to participate in the bus trip, which will leave Longwood at 6:30 a.m., and head to Washington, D.C., for the 2019 Women’s March.

Sunday, Jan. 20—University Sunday. 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Lee Grand Dining Room. Brunch in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday, Jan. 21—MLK Service Challenge. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Lankford Ballroom. Students have the opportunity to serve their community during “A Day On, Not Off.” The day will begin in Lankford Ballroom with a quick breakfast. At 9 a.m., teams will break into groups and head off campus to work on service projects in the community. Register here.

Tuesday, Jan. 22—Sydney Trent Keynote Address. 7 p.m. Jarman Auditorium. Sydney Trent, social issues editor at the Washington Post and the goddaughter of Barbara Johns, will deliver an address on the importance of morality and mountaintop imagination in American history and present-day culture.

Wednesday, Jan. 23—Building Bridges; Community Policing. 6 p.m. Moton Museum. This panel discussion on methods of community policing will feature Prince Edward Commonwealth’s Attorney Megan Clark, Longwood Chief of Police Robert Beach, Farmville Police Chief Andy Ellington and Attorney Khalil Latif. 

Thursday, Jan. 24—Passion to Action: Leadership Brown Bag Workshop. 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Maugans Alumni Center Virginia Room.

Friday, Jan. 25—Open-Mic Cabaret with LP. 7 p.m. Upchurch University Center first-floor lounge stage. Headliner poet Sha’Condria “iCon” Sibley will perform alongside students in an open mic forum.

Saturday, Jan. 26—Movie: BlacKkKlansman. 5 p.m. Upchurch University Center Soza Ballroom. Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado Springs, Colorado, successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan branch with the help of a Jewish surrogate who eventually becomes its leader. Based on actual events.

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