The most violent episode of the civil rights movement in Virginia occurred in Danville during the summer of 1963, at
the same time that the nation was transfixed by the televised images of T. Eugene "Bull" Connor turning dogs and
high-pressure hoses against demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama. There 3,300 persons were arrested. In
Danville the number was about 600.
Danville was a tobacco and textile town of about 50,000 residents, a third of whom were black. On May 31,
representatives of a broad cross-section of the black community met under the auspices of the Danville Christian
Progressive Association. The assembly then marched in a body to the municipal building. Like their counterparts
in Birmingham, the protesters in Danville pressed for desegregated facilities, equal employment opportunities,
representation in city government, and creation of a biracial commission to monitor racial progress.
Not only did the city resist the so-called Movement's demands, but in a coordinated fashion every instrument
of power was used to create an atmosphere of intimidation, including seeking injunctions under a pre-Civil War
"John Brown" statute against "any person conspiring to incite the colored population to insurrection."
On June 10, sixty high school students marched to the municipal building. The leaders were arrested. The
others fled and were chased into a blind alley where high-pressure hoses were turned on them. Many were
knocked down and some had their clothes blown off. Using nightsticks on helpless students, police officers
arrested them and hauled them off to jail. Students were allowed to call their parents, who upon arrival were
arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Demonstrations continued through the summer of 1963,
although national attention soon was turned to the March on Washington and, a few weeks later, to the killing
of four little girls in the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. The Danville protesters'
demands were never met by local authorities, and they had to wait for action to be taken at the national level,
namely the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to see their complaints answered.
Danville protest, June 10, 1963
Thurmond Echols, a high school honors student, rousing cheerleader and
singer, led sixty students to the Municipal Building in Danville on June 10, 1963. On arrival, he and two others
were arrested. The remainder of the group fled and were chased by policemen into a blind alley. Fire hoses
were turned on the students and observers remember seeing them hurled down the street. Many of those
arrested were charged under a pre-Civil War "John Brown" statute against "any person conspiring to
incite the colored population to insurrection against the white population." Courtesy Library of Virginia.
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