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On June 10, 1963, after months of peaceful protest of Danville’s segregationist policies and entrenched racism, the city’s white police force, aided by deputized municipal workers, unleashed a wave of violence against the largely young Black demonstrators. As protesters were beaten with clubs and washed under cars by firehoses, the events of this day came to be known as Bloody Monday.

This June 6, at 5:30 p.m., the Library of Virginia, in partnership with Virginia Humanities, will host Danville 1963: Legacy of a Movement, a public event to highlight the history of Bloody Monday and the larger civil rights movement of Danville, Virginia. The event will consist of a screening of The Movement, a 75-minute documentary that tells the story of Bloody Monday through first-hand accounts, introduced by the film’s producer, Jonathan Parker. Following the screening, Karice Luck-Brimmer, a historical content producer on the film and the Community Initiatives Program associate for Virginia Humanities, will moderate a panel discussion with protest participants.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Parker

Throughlines of The Movement

The Danville civil rights demonstrations of 1963 were not isolated events. The civil rights movement of the 1960s was built upon the experiences of Black people from the past, from enslavement to the 1883 Danville Massacre.

Established at a strategic bend of the Dan River, Danville owes its growth to bright leaf tobacco. The cultivation of tobacco relied heavily on enslaved Black and multiracial laborers, and the bright leaf boom enriched the white planters and businesses of Danville. By 1860, 45.6% of Pittsylvania County’s population was enslaved, while an additional 563 Free Black and multiracial individuals were registered in the locality between 1807 and 1865. Black individuals, both free and enslaved, totaled nearly half the county’s population and lived under constant policing by white residents and leaders.

After the Civil War, Black Virginians were able to vote for the first time due to the 15th Amendment. This led to a surge in voter registration by Black and multiracial men and a more diverse political landscape in the state. Political progress seemed to come with the election of twenty-four Black delegates to the 1868 Constitutional Convention and the election of approximately 75 Black representatives to the Virginia House and Senate between 1869 and 1880, giving Black Virginians hope for a future full of political power and social equality.

In 1880, the majority of Danville’s citizens were Black. However, despite progress in other areas, formerly enslaved and free Black and multiracial people still had little political power in the city. The recently formed Readjuster Party, a coalition of white working-class Democrats and Republicans, as well as Black politicians and activists, helped to change this fact. In 1882, the Readjusters won two-thirds of the seats in the Danville City Council, including four Black council members: Henry Swann (incumbent), Julius W. Payne, D.F. Batts, and Bird Lipscomb.

The Black community’s increasing power through the Readjusters at the state and local level threatened many white businessmen and leaders. Racial tensions rose in Danville, culminating in the release of the “Coalition Rule in Danville” broadside in October 1883, just before the November elections. Crafted by Judge Archibald M. Aiken, Sr. and signed by various local merchants, this circular outlined the “injustice and humiliation” experienced by white residents of the city due to the “radical or negro party” being in control, further exacerbating the divide in Danville.

Amidst heightened tensions in the city, a confrontation unfolded on the streets between Charles D. Noel, a white man, and Henderson “Hense” Lawson, a Black man, culminating in Noel striking Lawson. This incident sparked widespread violence against the Black community, leading to the deaths of Edward Davis, Terry Smith, and two unidentified Black individuals in shootings perpetrated by white assailants. Walter Holland, another white individual, also succumbed to gunfire during the unrest. Initially termed a “riot,” this tragic event is now recognized as the Danville Massacre.

After the massacre, white residents patrolled the streets for several days to deter Black voters from participating in the elections. White political leaders attributed the conflict solely to the Black community, employing these tactics to secure Democratic victories in the 1883 elections. Black city officials in Danville resigned. By 1885, the Readjuster party ceased to exist in Virginia.

Despite a local investigation into the massacre, and a separate Senate Congressional investigation, no individuals or groups were held responsible (see: “Report of Committee of Forty”). Democrats soon after gained control of the General Assembly and Governorship, formally ushering in a new era of white supremacy under the 1902 Virginia Constitution , which codified “Jim Crow” laws. The Black community faced mounting oppression in the form of poll taxes, literacy tests, unequal access to education, and the ever-present threat of lynching.

The Movement

After decades of Jim Crow rule, the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling sparked a new era of change by overturning Plessy v. Ferguson and initiating integration efforts. However, in Virginia, “Massive Resistance” took hold, keeping segregation firmly in place throughout much of the state.

At a 1960 sit-in held by Black students at the Danville Public Library and Confederate Memorial, a movement gained momentum in Danville, energizing civil rights activism in the city and leading to the formation of the Danville Christian Progressive Association (DCPA). Led by local ministers Lawrence Campbell and Alexander Dunlap, the DCPA advocated for the employment of Black residents in civil positions, despite segregationist mayor Julius Stinson’s refusal to heed their calls. By Spring 1963, the DPCA, alongside Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leaders, intensified their efforts for equality.

On June 10, 1963, a small protest at city hall in Danville turned violent as police used dogs, fire hoses, and nightsticks to subdue demonstrators. Later that day, a larger group led by Reverend Campbell marched around the city jail where earlier protesters were held. Once again, police employed force, even deputizing sanitation workers, who violently struck demonstrators with clubs. This day became known as “Bloody Monday,” marking an acceleration of “The Movement” in Danville.

From the bench, avowed segregationist Judge Archibald M. Aiken Jr., championed the white backlash just as his father, Archibald M. Aiken Sr., had done against the Readjusters in 1883. Aiken Jr., known to carry a pistol under his judicial robes, limited protests and public assembly in “public streets and in the vicinity of the public buildings of the city” in an injunction. This resulted in the arrest of hundreds of additional demonstrators, who then faced Aiken’s racist practices in the courtroom.

In addition to Judge Aiken’s actions, Danville’s city council passed an ordinance that severely restricted picketing and demonstration, imposing harsh punishments for violations to deter further demonstrations. Despite these measures, demonstrations continued, resulting in over 250 arrests by mid-July on charges of contempt, trespassing, disorderly conduct, assault, parading without a permit, and resisting arrest. Additionally, parents were arrested for not adequately supervising their children and contributing to their delinquency when attempting to post bail at the jail. The true extent of support cannot be measured in arrests alone. Community networks coordinated to feed, house, transport, and provide medical aid to demonstrators. Local businesses bailed out demonstrators. The Movement was a product of people supporting one another and went beyond the actions of individuals.

The demonstrations, legal proceedings, and governmental response drew the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who came to Danville several times in support of the jailed demonstrators. On July 11, 1963, he spoke at High Street Baptist Church. The perseverance of the demonstrators also caught the attention of the organizers of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and so in August of 1963, a cohort of Danville protestors led the procession at the historic march.

With backing from various civil rights organizations, the demonstrators generally received solid legal representation, resulting in multiple appeals. Some of the trials, particularly those of Rev. Lawrence Campbell, Lawrence George Campbell, A.I. Dunlap, Julius E. Adams, and Arthur Pinchback and other leaders, dragged on for nearly a decade. The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled on the final outstanding matters from the demonstration cases in 1973.

Accessing the 1963-1973 Court Records

In 1999, the clerk of circuit court for Danville saw the value of the court records related to the demonstration in 1963. It was at this time that the paper records came to the Library of Virginia for processing and microfilming so the records could be preserved and made accessible for more researchers. Around the same time, the original Dictabelts containing the audio recordings of the courtroom proceedings underwent conversion and were copied onto compact disks.

Nearly 25 years later, Library of Virginia staff coordinated efforts to make these valuable historical records more easily accessible to the public. Digital Initiatives and Web Presence staff had the microfilm reels converted into digital images, then added these and the digital audio files from the CDs to Rosetta, the Library’s digital asset management and preservation platform. This allowed both the paper court documents and the audio of the court proceedings to be made available online as part of the Library of Virginia’s digital collections.

In addition to making the now-digital records more accessible, Library of Virginia Local Records Staff worked to better organize the digital records and describe the records to aid in access. The finding aid for the Danville (Va.) Civil Rights Records, 1963-1973 now contains updated information, including improved historical information, accessible organization, links from the description to the digital records, and value-added information including additional names, court information, and previously undocumented components of the records.

Through this work, anyone can now read through the available court records and listen to hours of courtroom audio right at home.

Sources

“Council Limits Use of Library and Parks to Head Off Further Negro Demonstration,” Danville Bee, April 4, 1960.

Danville (VA) Civil Rights Case Files, 1963-1973.Series XII: Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Folder -Decisions, Lawrence G. Campbell et al. vs City of Danville, December 1972.Accession 38099, Local Government Records Collection.
https://rosetta.virginiamemory.com/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE3621535

Danville (VA). Committee of forty to Investigate Danville Riot.  Richmond, John & Goolsby, printers
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t9d50x307&view=1up&seq=1

“Danville, Viriginia” Report by Dorothy Miller and Danny Lyons published by Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, August 1963.
https://www.crmvet.org/docs/danville63.pdf

Graham, H. S. (Henry S.), C. B. (Curtis B.) Graham, and E. (Edwin) Hergesheimer. “Map of Virginia : Showing the Distribution of Its Slave Population from the Census of 1860.” Washington, DC: H.S. Graham 1861, Print.
https://lva.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01LVA_INST/altrmk/alma990015151140205756

Moses, Mabel. Surveys. Circulars.
https://lva.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01LVA_INST/altrmk/alma990006820590205756

“Ordinance 63-6.2: Ordinance Limiting Picketing and Demonstration, Proving Punishment for Violations Thereof, June 14, 1963”, Danville (VA) City Council Record of Council Proceeding, 1962-1963.

Staunton Vindicator – Supplement : Coalition Rule in Danville … : Help Us Fellow Citizens by Voting for the Conservative Democaatic [Sic] Candidates … Staunton, VaVA: Staunton vindicator, 1882. Print.
https://rosetta.virginiamemory.com/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE3237849

“30 Demonstrators Jailed, Fire Hose Used As Group Seeks to Block Jail”, Danville Bee, June 10, 1963.

U.S. Senate. Committee on Privileges and Elections. Alleged Outages in Virginia. (48 S. Rpt. 579). Text from: Committee Reports. Available from: ProQuest Congressional; Accessed: 5/28/24.

Virginia. Governor (1962-1966 : Harrison), Executive Papers, 1962-1966. Box 10 Folder 2. Accession 26231 and 26833, State government records collection.
https://lva.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01LVA_INST/altrmk/alma990015214620205756

Mary Ann Mason, They/Them

Local Records Archivist

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