Depending on whom you talk to in Danville, the summer of 1963 is a time that the community has either largely forgotten about or can’t let go of.

Both are right.

For decades, the city’s civil rights struggles went largely unacknowledged by those who were in power — and, by extension, who were the keepers of Danville’s collective memory. Boxes of photos from Bloody Monday, the day when the city’s white police force attacked the mostly Black protesters with fire hoses and billy clubs, sat unopened, gathering dust in the historical society’s archive.

But over those same decades, the memories lived fresh within Danville’s Black community, tainting its relationship with the police department, and with the city.

In more recent years, the city has finally begun to publicly commemorate its civil rights struggle. 

Today, 60 years later, Danville has a historical marker for Bloody Monday and a museum exhibit about the movement. There are also tours led by Black historians and members of the historical society, and an anticipated documentary that has finally given a platform to the Black residents who experienced the summer of 1963. 

Black communities that have been affected by past traumatic events tend to have a long memory, said Emilye Crosby, a scholar of civil rights and African American history who teaches at SUNY Geneseo in New York. 

“Whereas whites in the same community, they don’t really think about these events, sometimes they don’t know about these events, or they weren’t central to their lives in the same way,” Crosby said. 

Even if white people are aware of the Black history in their community, they may be less willing to talk about it, she said.

At left: Civil rights protesters stand in front of conference room 301 in Danville’s city hall. At right: The door from this photo has been retired to the Danville Historical Society. Historic photo courtesy of Danville Historical Society, new photo by Brooke Stephenson.

“Many, many, many whites don’t want to talk about the civil rights movement,” Crosby said. “They don’t want to acknowledge it. They don’t want to acknowledge Jim Crow or slavery.”

Crosby’s academic work mainly focuses on Claiborne County, Mississippi, and its county seat of Port Gibson. She’s conducted more than 100 oral history interviews with Black and white people from this community. 

“Whites in the community that I talked to for my work, they described it as ‘that old mess,’” Crosby said. “‘Why do you want to talk about that old mess?’ and ‘Why do you bring that up?’ I think that’s a kind of common refrain.”

And among Black people, there are usually two reactions to past community trauma, she said. The first looks similar to the white response that Crosby has encountered — though for very different reasons. 

“Some African Americans don’t want to look back at the difficulties; they’d rather look forward. They don’t want to sort of reinforce a difficult past, and they’d like their children to have a brighter future where that’s not so central in their lives.” Crosby said.

But other Black residents want to speak about it, to spread information about this history.  

“Of course, there are African Americans who very much want to have people confirm and acknowledge what’s been done in the past,” Crosby said. 

Both of these viewpoints exist in Danville’s Black communities, said Karice Luck-Brimmer, a local historian and genealogist.

About 49% of Danville residents today are Black, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2021. About 43% are white. 

Luck-Brimmer, who is Black, has been collecting oral histories and doing genealogy work in Danville for more than 20 years. 

“Some people, they just love to talk,” she said. “They’re proud of where they came from and they’ll tell you all about it. But you do have a group where it’s painful for them, or their families didn’t talk about it. They’ll say, ‘Why do you want to dredge up all that stuff? It’s too painful for us, and we don’t want to remember.’”

Dorothy Moore-Batson, who was 18 during the summer of 1963 and participated in the demonstrations daily, has spoken about her experience many times over the years to print and TV reporters. 

But she said she thinks most people who were there don’t like to remember it. 

“That’s the kind of thing that you don’t want to think about,” Moore-Batson said. “You want to forget about it.”

Mary Barnes, who was about 10 years old in 1963, remembers her father picking up injured protesters in the family car and driving them to the hospital. But she said her family didn’t talk much about it after that. 

“There was just never any talk about it,” said Barnes, who is Black. “You just grew up knowing things that happened, and yet your parents wouldn’t talk to you about it because they were trying to spare you, spare your nerves.”

At left: Protesters on the steps of Danville’s city hall in 1963. At right: Dorothy Moore-Batson, now 78, on the same steps. Historic photo courtesy of Danville Historical Society, new photo by Brooke Stephenson.

Both Moore-Batson and Barnes left Danville, then moved back later in life to care for ailing parents and ended up staying. 

Neal Morris, who was a 24-year-old motorcycle patrolman with the Danville Police Department during the summer of 1963, believes that Danville’s Black residents are more likely than white residents to remember the events of that summer. 

Morris, who is white, never moved away.

“The Black community would certainly remember this more because they were the victims, or some of their family members were victims,” Morris said. “I’m sure that that has a great impact on them more than anybody else. There’s not many people left from a police standpoint.”

What Morris does recall is sometimes at odds with the stories that demonstrators have shared, and with the historical record.

Morris remembers riding on his motorcycle, stopping traffic for protesters, during the spring demonstrations. 

“As a police officer, you don’t particularly pay that much attention to it, you just go about doing your job,” he said. “The law was what we had to enforce. I wasn’t in any decision-making position or anything like that at the time.”

The Danville Police Department deputized municipal workers during the summer of 1963, and Morris said that much of the violence came from these untrained men.

“I’m not saying there were no policemen that did things wrong, but I think that’s where most of the injury came from,” he said. 

He also remembers protesters throwing bottles and bricks at the officers. 

But Moore-Batson said the protesters were always nonviolent. Any violence that summer came from the police, she said. 

Moore-Batson was arrested later in the summer, while she was leading a peaceful march downtown. City ordinances at the time strictly prohibited demonstration, and the police thought that arresting the leader would break up the march, she said. 

Two officers held her by her arms and dragged her to a police car, she said. 

Dorothy Moore-Batson at 18 years old, being arrested by two officers during a peaceful protest. Photo courtesy of Karice Luck-Brimmer.

Morris and Moore-Batson also have have very different memories about the people who were injured on Bloody Monday.

Morris said he visited the Winslow Hospital — the Black hospital in those days — and only saw about 13 people getting treated for minor injuries. 

But Moore-Batson recalls more severe injuries. “It was so bad,” she said. “People had bleeding heads, broken arms and legs.”

The historical marker in front of Danville’s courthouse reads: “Police clubbed and fire-hosed the marchers, injuring at least 47 and arresting 60.”

Rediscovering an archive of the city’s past

Despite the “long memory” of some Danville residents, the community as a whole managed to largely sidestep the legacy of Bloody Monday for decades.

Until recently, even the Danville Historical Society had barely acknowledged the city’s Black history.

Part of that had to do with the group’s early mission: It started in the 1970s in response to urban renewal in the city and primarily worked to save historic homes. For years, it maintained a focus on architecture, and on whatever the head of the organization was personally interested in, said Robin Marcato, its executive director.

During those years, the historical society was largely unorganized, and it had no physical space until 2019, so its massive collection of records and photographs remained boxed up, out of sight. 

It was also a volunteer organization until just last year, when Marcato and archivists Cody Foster and Joe Scott were hired as the first paid employees.

But the historical society also was part of a city that had pushed back against civil rights — an uncomfortable fact for some residents to acknowledge.

“There are so many people that I’ve talked to since I moved here that don’t want to talk about particular chapters of Danville history, because they feel they’re embarrassing to the town,” Marcato said. “I feel strongly that nothing should be embarrassing about this kind of history. It’s something that you acknowledge and you learn from and you understand.”

At left: According to notes written by the city attorney, these white people told police, using a racial slur, that Black protesters had occupied City Hall for a long time and they wanted to occupy the steps. No one was arrested. At right: A shot of City Hall and the statue of Harry Wooding. The statue reads “Mayor of Danville” and “Soldier of the Confederacy.” Historic photo courtesy of Danville Historical Society, new photo by Brooke Stephenson.

The historical society itself hasn’t been immune. Its former president resigned in 2020 after racist remarks were posted on his Facebook page. The organization called the comments “repugnant.”

Today, the historical society encompasses everything from Native American history in the area to the present. For the first time since its inception in the 1970s, it is working to include a complete and comprehensive history of the city.

“To me, focusing on one specific part of history completely just throws away what DHS represents,” Foster said.

Marcato, Foster and Scott have been working to organize and digitize the historical society’s archives, and to make the materials accessible to the public.

This means that people who were involved in Danville’s civil rights protests can now go in and see photos, court documents and other materials from that summer — some for the first time ever.

Marcato said the family of the late Bishop Lawrence Campbell, a major leader in the local civil rights movement, came in to look at photos from the summer of 1963. They had no idea that the historical society had so many, she said.

Moore-Batson said she was unaware of the historical society’s collection, too.

“In its previous iteration, it wasn’t accessible to anyone except those who knew where the right box was,” Marcato said. “This stuff doesn’t belong to us. It’s here for the community.”

Another example of delayed recognition is the Bloody Monday historical marker that stands outside the courthouse on Patton Street. It wasn’t erected until 2007, 44 years after the fact.

But Luck-Brimmer said it’s significant that Danville even has the marker because very few historic markers feature Black history.

Only about 6% of the nation’s more than 179,000 historical markers are tagged in the “African American” category in the Historical Marker Database. And only 2% are tagged in the “Civil Rights” category.

“[A historical marker] is one of the highest honors as far as remembrance, whether it’s for a city, a place, a site, an event,” Luck-Brimmer said. “And ours is right there where [Bloody Monday] happened. So the city did a great job getting that.”

Letting the people tell their own stories

In addition to erecting the marker and revamping the historical society, the city also has an exhibit on the summer of 1963 in the Danville Fine Arts and History Museum. 

The museum used to be the Danville Memorial Library, which was the site of a sit-in in 1960. 

The exhibit, installed in 2019, was developed by one of Luck-Brimmer’s colleagues, the late Emma Edmunds. Edmunds was working with Luck-Brimmer to share more civil rights stories with the community when she died in 2020 at age 74.

Luck-Brimmer said she was focused just on oral histories until she met Edmunds, who was from Halifax County. 

“The people that she had researched, I actually knew a lot of them personally through my own work,” Luck-Brimmer said. “I didn’t have an interest in Danville civil rights, I was just collecting oral histories and [civil rights] was part of those stories. It wasn’t until I met Emma that I realized, we really do need to put this stuff out.”

Edmunds made people in Danville care about the city’s civil rights movement, Luck-Brimmer said. 

“She was just a real influential lady,” she said. “It was a sight to see, this old white lady walking through the community talking about civil rights. Telling people, ‘You need to talk about this stuff.’ And the people started to listen.”

Edmunds and Luck-Brimmer prioritized letting the participants of Danville’s civil rights movement tell their own stories, because some of them are still alive and in Danville, Luck-Brimmer said.

“They should be the ones telling these stories and making it known,” she said. “A lot of these things, we look at them like they happened so long ago, but we’re only talking 60 years.”

At left: Protesters on Main Street, across from Danville City Hall. At right: The same corner today. Historic photo courtesy of Danville Historical Society, new photo by Brooke Stephenson.

Luck-Brimmer has also been working with producer Jonathan Parker, who is making a documentary about the summer of 1963 in Danville. He plans to share the documentary with the community sometime this summer. 

Parker, who grew up in the Danville area, said Luck-Brimmer has been a crucial part in making the documentary come together. She introduced his team to people who were involved in the civil rights movement, he said. 

“At the end of the day, I’m a white person working on a project about the stories of the Black community,” Parker said. “[Luck-Brimmer] was instrumental in providing that connection to the community and helping us build trust.”

But first he had to win her trust, which took some effort, he said. 

“I’m just protective over some of the people and their stories,” Luck-Brimmer said. “I was skeptical because I just believe that the people who lived through these experiences, they should be the ones telling their own stories.”

Parker said the documentary will do this as it’s “journalistic” and spotlights the individuals who were involved in the protests and their memories of that time, he said. 

It’s easy to be skeptical of projects like this, Luck-Brimmer said, because for so long, the story wasn’t told – and was neglected by entities like historical societies that can “choose what to protect and preserve.” 

And when the story is told, it’s often done in a way that makes it seem like everything is fixed now, she said.

“You have a history of your story being told that way,” Luck-Brimmer said. “That’s a part of the skepticism. There’s been a huge initiative in the past couple of years even, just to make sure that the stories are being told by the people who lived it and who connect with it.”

Luck-Brimmer also leads tours around Danville, highlighting the city’s civil rights history and Black history – which overlap, but are not synonymous, she said. 

“There’s more to Danville’s African American history than the local civil rights movement,” she said. “There’s so many other stories.”

Reaching the next generation

It’s important to start talking about this history more, said Foster, to ensure that it survives as the generation that lived it ages. 

Parker said he felt like he was “literally racing against the clock” while making his documentary. Three of the people he interviewed, or wanted to interview, died before it was complete, including Campbell, whom Parker interviewed in the fall. He died in March at age 93.

The Danville Historical Society tries to share the city’s civil rights history with the younger generation by giving tours, sometimes exclusively to students. Foster said he and Scott recently gave a tour to a group of local high school students, many of whom were Black. 

“They had little to no knowledge of the history of High Street Baptist or the freedom movement or even Bloody Monday,” Foster said. “Some of them were just really taken aback by the brutality of the situation … they might’ve heard it mentioned by a grandparent or something, but I don’t think they had really ever faced just how dire the situation was at the time.”

At left: Civil rights protesters at the corner of Patton and Main streets. At right: the same corner today. Historic photo courtesy of Danville Historical Society, new photo by Brooke Stephenson.

Zydasia Smith, a Danville native who was a teenager when she organized local demonstrations in June of 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd, never learned about Bloody Monday in school, according to a Washington Post article on the city’s relationship with its Confederate and Black histories. 

Crosby said this is somewhat common. “More and more, African American children don’t know about their history,” she said. 

Marcato said students are surprised to learn that many of the people involved in the 1963 protests were themselves teenagers and students. 

Foster said he gets excited when high schoolers become interested in this chapter of the city’s history. 

“Hopefully, with their being some interest in these stories, those students will go back and ask their grandparents about it and get information firsthand,” Foster said. “That way these firsthand accounts can live on.”

First acknowledgement, then a path forward

Efforts like the museum exhibit, the documentary and the civil rights tours can help educate the community about Bloody Monday and the summer of 1963, Luck-Brimmer said. 

Acknowledgement of events like these is crucial for a community, Crosby said, because progress can actually be hindered when a community trauma is not recognized. 

“Whites should talk about this stuff as much as African Americans,” she said. “[Education] is an important piece of what communities can do, so that it’s not just a Black issue or something that African Americans care about or know about, but something that the entire community knows.”

Crosby mentioned the National Memorial for Peace and Justice — informally known as the National Lynching Memorial — in Montgomery, Alabama. 

The Equal Justice Initiative, the organization behind the memorial, is working to document the lynchings that occurred throughout the country. “Until now, there has been no national memorial acknowledging the victims of racial terror lynchings,” its website says. 

The memorial sits on a 6-acre site on top of a hill overlooking Montgomery. There are more than 800 steel columns in the center of the site, one for each county in the U.S. where a lynching took place, with the names of the victims engraved on the columns. 

At left: Danville City Hall, 1963. At right: Danville City Hall, 2023. Historic photo courtesy of Danville Historical Society, new photo by Brooke Stephenson.

The organization’s efforts also include educating communities where lynchings occurred and erecting historical markers. 

“Until there’s some acknowledgement of events like that, it can be hard to move forward in any way in that community,” Crosby said.

This was certainly the case in Danville, said Police Chief Scott Booth. He arrived in 2018, 55 years after Bloody Monday, and he said he found that it still had a hold on the community

Booth said that the police action during the summer of 1963 was “a real deterrent” in creating a trusting relationship between the community and the police in the intervening decades. 

In 2019, the police department made a public apology to the community for the actions of the force during the summer of 1963. 

After the apology, Booth and civil rights leader Campbell had a public discussion about race relations in the city.

Acknowledging historical division between the community and the police, especially if it stems from police violence against community members during a civil rights struggle, is absolutely critical in rebuilding this relationship, said David Kennedy, professor of criminal justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. 

“[If] nobody’s ever acknowledged it or done anything about it, then sending police officers to talk to kids in schools or having community meetings or having barbecues or having basketball leagues or something like that, not only is that shallow perspective, it’s insulting,” Kennedy said. “Because it is the authority saying to the community, ‘We’re going to pretend that this never happened and we expect you to like us and work with us anyway.’”

Danville city leaders and community members are working on acknowledgement efforts, and Luck-Brimmer said they’ve done a great job so far. 

She said the city is known for its role in the Civil War, housing Jefferson Davis and becoming a temporary capital of the Confederacy after Richmond fell. 

But Danville’s history is more than that, she said. 

“We need to all put forth the effort to make sure we’re informing this community of a more inclusive narrative to make sure all of the stories are heard,” she said. “This is a part of our history, and we’re proud of it. We’re proud of our legacies, we’re proud of our culture, and we’re most proud of how we have been able to sustain as a people with all of the things that have happened historically.”

More stories from this project

The echoes of a civil rights struggle that shook Danville 60 years ago

This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of Bloody Monday, when civil rights protesters in Danville were violently confronted by police. In this story and three others, read about Danville’s civil rights movement, the people who lived through it, and how the city is growing today.

Grace Mamon is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at or 540-369-5464.