Many people who participated in Danville’s civil rights movement still live in the city. Some moved away and returned, years later. Others left and never came back. Still, many current Danville residents have firsthand accounts from the summer of 1963. And many more grew up hearing stories from their grandparents, older neighbors and other members of the community. Here are some of those stories.
Karice Luck-Brimmer grew up listening to her grandfather’s stories about Danville.
“I was just a nosy teen,” she said. “But my grandfather was like the community historian, and the stuff he would talk to me about, I would sit and wonder about it, and I was very drawn to it.”
She didn’t know what a genealogist was, but she fell in love with stories about the history of Danville, where she was born and raised.
She remembers the first time she heard about the civil rights movement in Danville, when she was 7 or 8 years old.
Her grandfather told her the story of his experience on Bloody Monday — June 10, 1963. It included Cousin Boosie, the nickname for a family member whom Luck-Brimmer had grown up hearing stories about.
“My grandfather said that on Bloody Monday, he packed up his wife, my grandmother, and a car full of other women,” she said. “They were fired up and ready to go, and he drove them across the Worsham Street Bridge and he parked right where Link’s Cafe is today.”
The women might have been fired up and ready, but Luck-Brimmer’s grandfather was not, she said.
“He told the women, ‘I’m not going around the corner to get my tail beat. I’m going to stay right here with the getaway car,’” she said. “He said he remembers the craziest scene, shortly after. He sees the women coming back around the corner where Link’s is, and the police are behind them wielding billy clubs.”
Everybody made it to the car — except Cousin Boosie.
“He remembers looking in the rearview mirror and driving across the bridge and seeing Cousin Boosie being beat by the police,” Luck-Brimmer said.
The story made her curious about Cousin Boosie. Who was she, really? Luck-Brimmer asked around and eventually discovered that Boosie’s real name was Celeste Lindsey.
Luck-Brimmer found Lindsey’s arrest report, and although she wasn’t able to discover much more about her, it sparked an interest in genealogy and community history.
She began going to the library with her mother — but not for children’s books.
Luck-Brimmer said she would always read biographies. She remembers checking out the biography of Mahalia Jackson, an American gospel singer of the 20th century, to the surprise of the librarians.
“They were like, ‘Why do you care about that?’” Luck-Brimmer said. “But I just loved this stuff.”
Now in her mid-40s, she’s a genealogist and historian and works with Virginia Humanities, which is based at the University of Virginia and aims to help people connect with their history and culture.
“I have clients all over the country that I do genealogy for,” Luck-Brimmer said. “But my day job, it actually overlaps with a lot of the work that I do with the community. It actually gives me more resources, especially to do the work around storytelling.”
She’s collected oral histories from Danvillians for years. Her work wasn’t specifically focused on the civil rights movement, though, until she met Emma Edmunds through Virginia Humanities.
Edmunds, a journalist, was a Halifax County native but had never heard of Danville’s civil rights movement until she was doing research for a story about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Luck-Brimmer said.
“She said all she kept seeing was Danville, Danville, Danville,” Luck-Brimmer said. “And she said, ‘Wait a minute, what does Danville have to do with the civil rights movement?’”
Edmunds realized that there was a rich history in her home region, Luck-Brimmer said, and she was inspired to learn more about Danville’s movement.
She put together a museum exhibit that includes profiles of the people involved in the movement, as well as timelines and photographs. In 2019, the exhibit was installed at the Danville Fine Arts and History Museum, which was formerly the Danville Memorial Library, the location of one of the first sit-ins of 1963.
Edmunds continued to share stories about the civil rights movement until her death in 2020 at age 74, Luck-Brimmer said.
“Emma talked about Danville civil rights, I’m going to say it was in her daily conversation, up until she died,” Luck-Brimmer said.
Edmunds had been working with Luck-Brimmer on a follow-up to her first museum exhibit; now Luck-Brimmer is continuing that project without her.
She wants to share more stories about the movement, she said, and is working with producer Jonathan Parker on a documentary about Bloody Monday in Danville.
Luck-Brimmer was instrumental in making the documentary come together, Parker said. She knew many residents who had been part of the civil rights movement, and she helped Parker and his team, who are white, establish trust with the city’s Black community.
This was critical, Parker said, because many people are hesitant to share their stories in the first place. And they’re even more reluctant if they think the storyteller won’t do their stories justice, which has happened in the past, Luck-Brimmer said.
Once Parker won her trust and approval — and the approval of Bishop Lawrence Campbell, who was one of the leaders of Danville’s movement — Luck-Brimmer helped him get in touch with community members.
She said the documentary puts the focus on the people who were actually involved and was a great way for them to share their experiences in their own words. Parker plans to hold a community viewing of the documentary sometime this summer.
Luck-Brimmer said she sometimes runs into obstacles in her job, especially when she’s tracking down documents for her genealogy work.
“It’s almost like it’s by design to keep us from knowing some of this history,” she said. “One of the biggest barriers has been records, because Black people were enslaved and they didn’t appear by name until the 1870 census.”
Marriage records and other documents either don’t exist or weren’t deemed important enough to preserve, Luck-Brimmer said, which is where oral histories come in.
But even then, she said, not everyone is willing to talk about the past, especially if it’s painful.
Some of the Bloody Monday protesters are reluctant to share their stories because they “don’t want to remember,” Luck-Brimmer said.
“Being a genealogist, you have to be a little detective piecing things together and developing all types of tips and techniques and clues to help us get to this information,” she said. “For the most part, if it’s out there, I can find it.”
The Almagro community in Danville where Mary Barnes grew up was a self-sufficient, all-Black neighborhood — one of very few in the country — that dates back to the 1880s.
Barnes was about 10 years old in 1963, when segregation was legal and Danville’s civil rights movement was in full swing. It was a scary time to be a child, she said.
“There was always this undercurrent of fear going on in your life,” Barnes said. “You grew up that way. You knew how to walk down the sidewalk and avoid certain people.”
Though Barnes was young, memories of Bloody Monday and the rest of the summer have stuck with her.
She remembers riding in the family car with her brother and parents on June 10, 1963.
“We were in the car, and saw this crowd of people running and police after them,” Barnes said. “We saw water hoses watering people, and people running from police or deputized garbagemen with billy sticks.”
People were running toward their car, she said, and her father stopped and told them to get in.
“We drove those people to the hospital,” Barnes said. “My dad drove the family home and then he drove back to the area, and wherever he saw people falling down or running, he would get them and take them back and forth to the hospital.”
After that, her family didn’t ever talk about it, she said.
But just a few years later, Barnes was in the middle of another civil rights effort: At age 12, she was part of a group of Black students who integrated Robert E. Lee Junior High School.
Life was uncomfortable, she said, which made safe places like church even more valuable.
“The church meant more to you than anything else because that was one of the places where you could go, and even though you didn’t talk about it, you could release some of that anger and fear and everything else by praising God and being emotional that way,” Barnes said.
Barnes’ grandfather was a pastor, and she has been a member of Bibleway Cathedral since 1993.
That’s when she finally returned to Danville after leaving as a young adult, in 1972.
“At 19 years old, I got married and got the hell out of Danville,” Barnes said.
She and her husband moved about an hour south to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She needed to leave because she held anger and resentment toward the city after her childhood experiences, she said.
But when her mother got sick 21 years later, Barnes returned to Danville to care for her. She didn’t expect much out of her hometown, she said.
“But after being here and becoming part of the community again, I saw the things that had changed,” she said. “I can say it’s a very, very different city. Some of the remnants are still visible, still here, but it’s a much better city.”
But she’s still glad she didn’t raise her twin sons in Danville.
“There was so much anger still in me,” she said. “That was one of the reasons I had to come back. I had personal reasons, too, but I also needed to deal with those demons inside of me.”
She opened an antique store, Miss Bunnie’s Variety Store, on Jefferson Street. She used the space not only to sell antiques, but also to make a positive impact on the community by doing things like helping local students with their homework.
She sold the buildings in 2022 and donated her antique collection to the Danville Historical Society.
Barnes, who’s 70, said she likes living in Danville now, and she hopes that the contributions that her family made there will be remembered as important.
“Thank God things have changed so much,” Barnes said. “In the city, and in me.”
Neal Morris grew up in Pittsylvania County and joined the Danville police force when he was around 21 years old.
Three years later, on May 31, 1963, he witnessed the first demonstration of the summer.
“We had three shifts back in those days, and I was working the evening shift from 3:30 until 11:30,” Morris said. “I was on a motorcycle and there was a group of people on the City Hall steps singing.”
He first thought it was a church group because they were singing hymns like “We Shall Not be Moved.”
Normally, the police department would’ve been informed about any gathering on city property, but this one was unexpected, Morris said.
“That’s when we found out that there was a movement beginning,” he said. “We didn’t know how long it would last. We didn’t know it wasn’t a one-day event. But it turned out to be practically every day through the entire summer.”
Morris said he did his job that summer, following orders from Chief Eugene McCain. He arrested demonstrators for violating the city ordinances that limited protests.
“The law was what we had to enforce,” he said. “I wasn’t in any decision-making position or anything like that at the time.”
There were hundreds of arrests throughout the summer, followed by trials.
“They filled up the city jail and then they started to move people [to jails] some distance away from Danville,” Morris said. “That probably had an adverse effect on the protests, because of the amount of people that had been arrested.”
That went on for the entire summer, until school started, he said. A lot of the protesters were young, and many were students.
Morris said he could understand where the demonstrators were coming from.
“If I couldn’t go to a theater, if I couldn’t eat in a restaurant, if I couldn’t stay in a hotel, I’d have been demonstrating too,” he said. “I understood what they were doing. They were looking for equal rights.”
Morris remembers the inequality that was rampant in Danville in those days, before desegregation.
“I remember they used to have drinking fountains that said ‘white’ and ‘colored,’ things like that, which would’ve been demeaning to an individual,” he said. “I mean, what’s the difference?”
He also remembers particular protesters, like the late Bishop Lawrence Campbell, who died this March at the age of 94.
“Bishop Campbell, he was a very calm, very steady individual,” Morris said. “He had a goal that he wanted to accomplish, and he was not involved in anything that was destructive or anything like that. He was a constructive figure in all of this.”
Morris, now in his mid-80s, believes that Danville’s success today can be attributed to the changes that came about in 1963.
“You can’t have this bitter division between people and have a successful city, and we have a successful city,” he said. “That’s because of what started back in ’63.”
Morris, who became police chief himself in 1971, said that if he had been chief during the summer of 1963, he wouldn’t have handled things so aggressively. “I never did anything like that in my 32 years as police chief,” he said.
His first priority as chief was to hire Black officers, he said; he worked with a group of Black ministers to recruit them, he said.
In his first year as chief, Morris also hired the city’s first two female officers. One of them, Mildred Corbett, was also the first Black female police officer in the city. She died in 2018 at the age of 77.
“Most departments hired female police officers and put them in juvenile work and not on the street,” he said. “I told them, I hire police officers, and you have to do the same thing that everybody else does. I’m not going to discriminate. And that worked out fine, we had a lot of police females over the years.”
Morris believes that diversifying the police force helped the department’s relationship with the community. He also maintained a good relationship with the president of the local NAACP chapter, he said.
Morris retired from police work in 2003, and today, he’s the head of Danville’s Industrial Development Authority. He also works as an assistant to his wife, Madeline Morris, who is a Realtor with Wilkins & Co. Realtors in Danville.
Morris said he’s seen the positive changes in Danville throughout the decades.
“You see what’s going on with the casino, the White Mill, industry coming in, jobs being created,” he said. “All because we have a positive attitude, a positive outlook on the future. And I think that is because of what started back in ’63.”
Dorothy Moore-Batson was 18 and had just graduated from high school in the spring of 1963.
She grew up in segregated Danville; she remembers using freight elevators instead of those meant for people, and having to eat at certain restaurants and use certain restrooms. She couldn’t go to the park with her friends, she said.
“When we shopped in the stores, me and my mom, my dad, my sister would want to pay for our items,” Moore-Batson said. “But if there was a white person standing nearby, [the cashier] would reach over me and my family to take care of them. They had to be first in every situation.”
It was difficult for Black people to vote, Moore-Batson said; this was before the 1965 Voting Rights Act prohibited literacy tests and other methods used to exclude African Americans from the polls.
“My mom and dad, they voted in every election, but you had to pay a poll tax and you also had to know how to read and write,” Moore-Batson said. “Many people didn’t bother to vote because they didn’t feel it was going to help anyway. So why would they waste money on a poll tax?”
Her parents took her and her sister with them every time they voted, which was exciting, she said. “Generally speaking, my parents were treated OK when they went to the polls,” Moore-Batson said.
Despite the segregation and unfair treatment, Moore-Batson said she wasn’t an angry or sad child.
“You just knew this is how life is,” she said. “You just accepted it.”
But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t tiresome. The Black community was sick of being treated this way, she said. And when the civil rights movement came, Moore-Batson, her sister and her cousin decided to participate.
They were at the demonstrations every day that summer, she said. Including on Bloody Monday.
Moore-Batson was on the front City Hall steps that evening, she said, not around back where protesters were “sandwiched in the alley” trying to avoid the fire hoses and nightsticks.
“I didn’t get beaten that night,” she said. “I just got bruises and scratches from running down the steps trying to get away.”
Another day that summer, though, Moore-Batson was injured by the police. She was leading a march in July when she was arrested under a city ordinance that prohibited protesting.
It was a peaceful demonstration, she said, but the ordinance didn’t allow any sort of protests at all. And because she was the leader, police thought that her arrest would break up the march, she said.
“But it didn’t, because if you’re the leader and that happens to you, there’s somebody else to take over the march,” she said.
Policemen grabbed her by the arms and dragged her to a police car, which scraped and bruised her legs. Then they threw her inside and took her to jail, where she found herself in a cell with other demonstrators, she said.
“I was in jail for probably a week, or a little over a week,” Moore-Batson said. “The jail cells were meant to hold maybe two people and no more than four. But there were about 10 in my cell.”
They used to take turns lying down.
“We had a sink and of course a toilet, but no privacy,” she said. “The food was very good. And we were not allowed to work. The prisoners who were there felt that we should be working, but we didn’t have to. So we used to just sing, pray, read the Bible and talk.”
The charges were eventually dropped, and Moore-Batson was released. But as she was walking out of the jail, she saw her mother, who had also been arrested for participating in the protests, walking in.
“When we passed each other I said, ‘Oh, Mama,’” Moore-Batson said. “She had a little change purse and I said, ‘You can’t have any money in here, Mama.’”
Moore-Batson became part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and attended the March on Washington that August. She also began working with the voter rights effort in Danville, teaching people how to read and write so that they could register to vote.
Her students, especially older folks, were excited to learn, she said. They were also excited by the prospect of voting.
“That was done at Loyal Baptist Church, and I thought it was so nice that they gave me a key, so I could go in there anytime I wanted and do the classes,” she said. “Someone later on thanked me for teaching their mom how to read and write and said she was so excited about that before she left this planet. That made me feel so good.”
Later, Moore-Batson moved to New York, where she met and married her husband, Freddie. She returned to Danville around 2009, when her mother got sick.
She and Freddie used to divide their time between Danville and New York but have now moved back to her hometown full time.
“My husband decided it’s so nice and quiet here,” she said. “He’s a New Yorker, but he liked it here.”
Moore-Batson, now 78, said she has noticed changes in Danville since moving back.
“We have Blacks on the city council now, which was never done before,” she said. “We have Blacks who work for the city, we’ve had several Black mayors and Blacks on the police force and in the sanitation department. We could never do that back then.”
She’s able to go about her life more comfortably now, she said.
“You don’t have to mind your Ps and Qs so much anymore, you can feel more comfortable,” she said. “I’m able to go to the regular elevators now. … There’s still a lot that we need to do, but we’ve come a long way.”
Despite the horrors that protesters faced in Danville, Moore-Batson called it “an amazing time.” She met so many people who were spreading so much love, she said.
“Even in my jail cell, we were able to sit and talk and laugh and sing and pray and read the Bible together,” she said. “I can’t recall anyone not being able to get along with each other. And that was just so unusual because you came in contact with so many different people from different parts of the country.”
The intervening six decades have given Moore-Batson time to reflect on the movement.
“We have to remember that people don’t like change, and many times, I would try to imagine myself in a white person’s shoes. If there was something I could do about change, I would try to do it,” she said.
But on the other hand, God made us all, Moore-Batson said. “We’re just different colors, but we’re still people.”
When sit-ins started in the South in 1960, Dorothy Zellner was 22 years old and a recent graduate of Queens College in her hometown of New York.
Zellner’s parents, left-wing, non-Zionist Jewish immigrants, raised her with not only an awareness of Jewish resistance to Nazism, but also of Black history and racial justice.
She credits her upbringing for her desire to join the civil rights movement, which she did with her parents’ support.
She joined organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality and the Southern Regional Council and helped plan the first sit-in in New Orleans.
But her main goal was to join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a group run entirely by young people, mostly Black college students. Zellner eventually landed a position as a typist, making her one of very few white members of the organization.
She became friends with James Forman, the group’s executive secretary.
“Jim Forman was a complete maniac about history and writing everything down, so he sent me to Danville to write a pamphlet,” Zellner said. “At some point in the spring, after things got really bad in Danville, the leadership of their protest organization called SNCC and asked for help.”
And though she was not a field organizer, she ended up becoming involved in some of the demonstrations.
Zellner’s pamphlet was simply titled “Danville, Virginia.” It includes quotes from another pamphlet put out that April by the Danville Chamber of Commerce.
“I wrote this pamphlet sort of in contradistinction to all the claims that the chamber of commerce was making,” Zellner said. “Even from that pamphlet, you could see how incredibly racist [Danville] was.”
The chamber of commerce pamphlet highlighted features of the city including its segregated library system and mostly “American-born” workforce.
Zellner quoted from the chamber’s piece in her own pamphlet: “Danville, Virginia, invites you to make our city your city — a fine place to live and work.”
And then in response, she wrote: “A young Negro woman who will bear the scars of a police billy stick on her face for the rest of her life — she questions Danville as ‘a fine place to live and work.’ A young Negro man who was beaten so savagely by police that he almost lost an eye and was refused medical attention in jail for three days — he has questions also.”
Zellner’s pamphlet also calls into question the chamber’s claims that Danville, as a “city of churches” with more than 100 congregations of various denominations, has a “high moral and spiritual tone.”
“I couldn’t let that go when I wrote this,” Zellner said. “Believe me, there was no kind of high spiritual tone whatsoever.”
Especially because much of the cruelty was directed at the Black ministers leading the movement and their places of worship, she said.
Her pamphlet also included a list of demonstrators who were hospitalized on Bloody Monday and a description of their injuries. Under the list, Zellner wrote, “An unknown number of persons were treated as outpatients by the staff of Winslow Hospital and discharged without a record being made of their injuries or injury.”
And the pamphlet features photographs of the injured, as well as of the demonstrations, taken by Danny Lyon, an SNCC photographer and Zellner’s friend.
Zellner herself was injured by police on Bloody Monday.
“I remember being afraid on the steps of the City Hall,” she said. “That’s the closest I ever came to knowing that something terrible was going to happen.”
She was blasted with a fire hose, which washed away her shoes and purse and knocked her to the ground, where she was hit on the back of her head by a policeman with a nightstick.
“At the time that I was attacked, I weighed 106 pounds. I was absolutely tiny,” Zellner said. “I was obviously unarmed. And I was getting up after being knocked down by the water hoses, and that’s when this cop hit me over the head. This was gratuitous violence. … This was completely unnecessary.”
She said her injury was minor compared to what others suffered. And she said she remembers being shocked that so many of the demonstrators were injured and hospitalized.
“What kind of a place was this?” Zellner said. “That’s what I would say 60 years on, that’s what I would ask some of those people who are still alive. I’m 85 years old, there are other people who are 85 who were there. I want to ask them what kind of place they were living in. What did they think?”
Zellner, who traveled around the South with SNCC, said that Danville felt harsher than other Southern cities.
“This was ’63, this was already three years after the sit-ins started, after all,” Zellner said. “You would hardly expect them to go into hysteria the way they did.”
Except for Mississippi and Southwest Georgia, which she said felt like stepping back into 1850, Danville was one of the most brutal cities she visited.
And unlike other Southern cities, there wasn’t really a white liberal presence helping with the movement in Danville, she said.
“In Atlanta and other cities, especially where there were universities, there was usually a very small and beleaguered number of white people who would at least say something,” Zellner said. “I don’t believe that [in Danville] there was one. Well, I’m sure there was, but they were obviously terrified and didn’t say anything. That’s the other thing I remember thinking: Where are the decent people?”
Zellner, like many other protesters, was charged under an 1859 statute enacted after John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. It charged protesters with “conspiring to incite the colored population of the State to acts of violence and war against the white population.”
Zellner and Lyon, the SNCC photographer, ended up fleeing Danville before they could be arrested.
“Forman told Danny and me that defending us against felony charges, if we were indicted, would be a needless expense,” Zellner writes in “Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC,” a 2012 book with accounts from 52 women who were involved with the civil rights movement.
Lyon and Zellner took their luggage to a Black church, she recounts in the book. When it was time to go, they climbed out of a back window of the church and into a car, where they lay on the floor of the back seat covered in newspapers.
In August 1963, she married Robert Zellner, another white SNCC activist who was in Danville that summer. They’d both been indicted in Danville and never spent much time in Virginia after that, she said.
“For many years, we never stopped for gas or anything in Virginia,” she said. “If we were driving through Virginia, we kept going because I didn’t show up for any arraignment or anything.”
Zellner continued to work with SNCC until it became a Black-only organization in 1967.
She moved back to New York from New Orleans in 1983. She remains an activist, involved now in feminist causes and the Palestinian solidarity movement.
She said she’s proud to have been one of the hundreds of thousands of participants in the civil rights movement. But there’s still work to be done.
“If you ask me why we’re fighting voter suppression now, 60 years later, that’s very upsetting and depressing,” she said. “It just goes to show you that the forces that are aligned against human rights are very strong.”
Zellner has not been back to Danville since 1963.
“I assume that it’s a far different place than it was 60 years ago,” she said. “But even 60 years ago, there was really no excuse for that.”
More stories from this project
60 years after Bloody Monday, Danville’s civil rights protesters “tell their own stories” in new documentary
Jonathan Parker, a white producer, had to build trust within Danville’s Black community for a project that would showcase their firsthand accounts of the summer of 1963. He also had to race against the clock, working to preserve these stories while people are still around to tell them.
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.
For nearly six decades, police photos of Danville’s 1963 civil rights protests were boxed up and had only been viewed by a handful of people. Now these photos and the accompanying notes from the city attorney are seeing the light of day.