Sculpture from Bon Secours and partner pays tribute to racial integration

Feb 27, 2024


Bon Secours Richmond and a partner unveiled a public art installation at a January gathering in Richmond, Virginia. The piece, called "Strides," commemorates a racial integration milestone at Richmond's Westhampton Junior High School.

In September 1961, then-12-year-old Daisy Jane Cooper was the first Black child to integrate into that middle school. Her mother had pursued three years of litigation so that the girl could attend the all-white school in her neighborhood rather than the school 5 miles away where minority children were bused. NAACP lawyers represented the family in the case.

The artwork's concept relates to a Richmond, Virginia, pioneer in racial integration. At age 12 in 1961, Daisy Jane Cooper was the first Black child to attend the all-white Westhampton Junior High School. This plaque describes her role in integration.

Other families had filed alongside Cooper but had withdrawn their cases. So, Daisy Jane was alone in breaking the color barrier that day. A year later, she was the first Black student to integrate into Richmond's Thomas Jefferson High School.

Bon Secours Richmond helps host a January event to unveil Strides.

Bon Secours Richmond and Thalhimer Realty Partners commissioned the installation. The sculpture is made up of two metal 12-foot by 6-foot forms that are four feet apart. The negative space between them forms a plus sign, symbolizing integration. When people walk between the two parts of Strides, they can sense the tension from the close proximity of those parts, according to a release. This is meant to challenge them to consider the tension Daisy Jane must have felt the first day of school.

Bon Secours St. Mary's Hospital is next to the historic site where the Westhampton school stood. When St. Mary's Hospital opened in 1966, it was the first racially integrated hospital in Richmond. Bon Secours is part of Bon Secours Mercy Health.

At the January unveiling of "Strides," Joseph May, mission director of Bon Secours St. Mary's Hospital and Richmond Community Hospital, blesses the sculpture as Jane Cooper Johnson, who is to his right, looks on. Johnson was Daisy Jane Cooper, who helped inspire the sculpture.

Daisy Jane, now Jane Cooper Johnson, was part of this ceremony to bless the sculpture.