In May 1963 televisions across the United States tuned in to newscasts of police officers led by Eugene “Bull” Connor, Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama, turning dogs and high pressure water hoses against nonviolent demonstrators led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Soon after, the most violent episodes of the civil rights movement in Virginia took place in Danville. About 47,000 people lived in Danville, most of them employed in either the textiles or tobacco industries. Roughly a third of the population was African American. Throughout the summer nearly 600 protesters were arrested in Danville.
Between May 31 and June 5, 1963, members of the African American community came together as the Danville Christian Progressive Association and marched to the city municipal building. The group sought equal employment for African Americans in city jobs. Soon the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was invited to help organize protestors. On June 10 in two separate marches, groups of about 40 and of about 60 demonstrators, including high school students, marched on the municipal building. Police used high-powered hoses and nightsticks on the protestors and made mass arrests.
The protests in Danville continued through the summer, while the fight for African American civil rights blazed throughout the South. Danville's white leaders ignored the protestors' demands. To intimidate and insult the demonstrators they flaunted the white establishment's power, indicting activists under a pre–Civil War statute against “inciting the colored population to acts of violence and war against the white population." Unfortunately, the Danville movement was not able to achieve advancement on a local level, and citizens there were forced to wait for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before any real change was seen.
1. What were the African American protesters in Danville fighting for? Were they successful?
1. Why didn't the protests in Danville garner the same amount of national attention as the civil rights battles in other parts of the South, namely Birmingham? Do you think that the results in Danville would have been different had there been a larger national media presence?
2. See “Coalition Rule in Danville”—the Danville Circular, October 1883. Why do you think that Danville was the site of two different battles for African American civil rights?
Thomas, William G., III. “Television News and the Civil Rights Struggle: The Views in Virginia and Mississippi.” Southern Spaces, November 3, 2004. http://www.southernspaces.org/contents/2004/thomas/4d.htm