Civil Rights Activists Recall Bloody Monday in Danville - WSET.com - ABC13

Civil Rights Activists Recall Bloody Monday in Danville

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Danville, VA - Danville went through a time of civil unrest and racial tension in 1963.

A young minister named Lawrence Campbell had moved to the community from Washington, DC, and he had quickly picked up on the way of life.

"Danville was totally segregated from the time you were born until the time that you died."

He would go on to become a leader in the black community, working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to start a Danville affiliation with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. 

When the group's many efforts to integrate the city were ignored, Campbell started putting a new plan in motion.

"We saw no other recourse but to start massive protests, " he said.

Brenda Fitz was only 12 years old in 1963, but she remembers when the demonstrations began.

Her own first experience with inequality came years earlier when her young curiosity led her to drink from a whites-only water fountain. Her grandfather made sure she never did it again.

"He said 'Do you understand, you can't do that? They would lock me up and no telling what they would do to you,' and I found that real fascinating that the water didn't taste any different, " Fitz said.

Her mother, Nannie Louise Pinchback, was dedicated to the movement, and on June 10, she and dozens of others mobilized to show the community enough was enough.

"We were lying in the street, blocking traffic, that sort of thing, " Campbell said.

A daytime demonstration led to the arrests of several protestors - including Campbell. That night, a group meeting at a local church decided to march down to the jail to pray for those who were incarcerated.

When they got there, they were ordered to leave, but instead, they began to pray.

"As we were praying, we noticed fire trucks coming up and people getting out of cars, " said protestor James Fultz.

Fultz was just 17 when he marched with the group that night. He remembers all too well what happened next, when police and deputized members of the community cornered the group in a dark alley next to the jail.

"They came and they started beating us with billy sticks and anything else they had in their hands... injuries to the head, back, blood everywhere, " he said.

Sixty-five people were taken to the local black hospital. The massacre led Dr. King to declare Danville's police department - led by Eugene McCain - one of the most brutal that he'd ever seen, but Campbell knew that they had sent a message to the city's leaders.

"They did not believe that those of us within this community would rise up as we rose," Campbell said.

As the years went by, change slowly came, but Mrs. Pinchback kept relics of their struggle - including court summonses, news clippings and letters that she wrote in prison - and she gave lectures throughout the community to make sure no one ever forgot their fight.

"She always said she didn't have money to leave her grand kids but this was more than what money could buy, " said Fitz.

Many of the demonstrators from that night have passed on, but they did live to see a new day in Danville - which led to change in other small communities and across the nation.

"She always said after a while that word 'race' is going to go away, " she said.

Campbell says prejudice has not yet disappeared in the city - and maybe it never will - but he is proud knowing that the stand they took that night helped make Dr. King's dream a reality.

"It was a painful night, but good came out of that pain. We have now, not arrived, but we have come so far, " Campbell said.

A march is planned for June 10 from Bibleway Church on Grant Street to the Danville Municipal Building,
to commemorate the 1963 demonstration. The Danville Police Department says they will be happy to
show support for that event as needed.

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