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By Marian Dennis, The Mercury
Pine Forge Academy (PFA) alumni celebrated 70 years as a school this weekend, and for many, the celebration was deeply rooted in historical significance.
Among those present on Sabbath morning were members of the class of 1966, one of the first classes at PFA to ever benefit from the policies of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration.
|Bryan Akil Marshall, president of the class of 1966, presents Lynda Bird Johnson Robb with a plaque honoring her family’s legacy. Johnson Robb was the guest of honor on Sept. 3, 2016, during Pine Forge Academy’s alumni weekend and 70th anniversary.
Photo by Marian Dennis/Digital First Media
Following introductions and prayer, the school welcomed Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, eldest daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson, to speak to the classes and be honored for her family’s contribution to the success of Pine Forge students.
“I was here as a young man going through the civil rights movement, which meant everything in my life,” said Bryan Akil Marshall, president of the class of 1966, as he introduced Johnson Robb. “You have hopes, dreams and aspirations and then to see someone significant, being President Johnson, do what he did, it was significant to me as a young boy to have him make the decisions he did which changed history.”
During a short session of questions, Johnson Robb discussed her father’s frequent use of the phrase, “Come, let us reason together,” noting that it was through collaboration and understanding that he was able to make a difference in people’s lives.
“One of the things that he talked about was that we all need to come together,” said Johnson Robb. “Blacks, whites, people of different religions, we all need to come together. And if we can talk to each other, if we can accept other people and their opinions then we’ll be able to become a better country.”
Following the discussion, the PFA class of 1966 presented Johnson Robb with a plaque commemorating the legacy of her family.
“I am always delighted with anybody who remembers my father and recognizes how hard he tried. He didn’t solve all the problems of the world but he made a difference in the lives of a lot of people,” Johnson Robb told The Mercury after receiving the plaque. “For senior citizens it was with Medicare and Medicaid. He made a lot of difference in the lives of people of color. He was the first to put federal aid into education with the exception of things like the GI Bill. It made it possible for schools that were poor and were never going to get better because of the tax rates in the area, to put money in for those children.”
Those types of contributions helped many of the school’s alumni achieve their dreams and move on to forge impressive resumes of accomplishments.
“My concern is that people have forgotten about his great legacy,” said Rockefeller Twyman, valedictorian of the class of 1966. “There never would have been a Barrack Obama president or a possible Hillary Clinton if it hadn’t been for those equal opportunity laws. I think this is just so critical that we don’t forget their tremendous contribution. We as the class of 1966, we’re successful because of those equal opportunity laws.”
Members of the class of 1966 celebrate the 70th anniversary of Pine Forge Academy with Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and former First Lady of Virginia (from left to right): Barry Black; Lynda Johnson Robb, Vashti Myrrick and Rocky Twyman.
Photo provided by E.Geer
As the ceremony continued, the choir performed musical selections and alumni addressed the guests about the bond among Pine Forge students that has allowed them to create “a legacy of excellence.”
“I know people whose lives have been changed by the laws of the 1960s and I’m honored that there are people who remember him and the difference he made,” said Johnson Robb. “I think Daddy would be delighted.”
During the event Twyman explained that Robb’s visit was especially important to him, noting that he would not have been able to survive at PFA or through college if it had not been for the summer jobs program of The Great Society that President Johnson engineered.
“He changed the racist and sexist history of the U.S.," said Twyman. "It really makes him the president who’s done the most for civil rights in our time.”
PFA graduate Donna Franklin broke color/gender barriers as a sociology professor at the University of Chicago. Wendell Cheatham, an authority on diabetes in black people, said that the class of 1966 saw the world change. Other outstanding graduates who benefited include Melodie Mayberry Stewart, chief technology officer for New York; and Mary Caleb, teacher of the year twice in Florida,and many others.
Commenting on the occasion, Johnson Robb said her father would be delighted that the landmark 1960s legislation he signed into law has played a role in these and other successes.
"Daddy wanted everyone to live up to their full potential," she said. "I think it’s wonderful that a person of color was elected president. We want everyone to have the opportunity to serve however best they can in this country whether they are a teacher, doctor, president of the United States, or household executive," she said. "That’s what it’s all about."
The Johnson legacy has continued through Robb. She has a list of lifetime achievements that parallel those of her father. Among those achievements are a presidential appointment by Jimmy Carter to serve as chair of the President’s Advisory Committee for Women (1979-1981), serving as chair of the Virginia’s Women Cultural History Project (1982-1985), vice chair of Americans Promise, and chair of the Virginia Task Force on Infant Mortality. She also received a congressional appointment to serve as commissioner of the National Commission to Prevent Infant Mortality (1989-1996). Johnson Robb is currently serving on the Library of Congress Literacy Awards board.
— This article, used with permission, originally appeared in The Mercury on Sept. 3, 2016; additional reporting by Rockefeller "Rocky" Twyman.
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