Jonathan Parker grew up in Pittsylvania County, but until he was an adult, he didn’t know about the intense civil rights struggle that occurred just miles away in Danville. Once he learned about the movement, he felt compelled to help keep this history alive, he said.
“I became fascinated by the story,” Parker said. “It’s something that so many people have never heard about, this unbelievable tale of mayhem in the streets of Danville.”
Along with his wife, Rebecca, Parker created a documentary called “The Movement,” which compiles first-person accounts of the summer of 1963. Parker interviewed 17 people for the documentary, most of whom were protesters in the movement.
The 80-minute documentary premiered June 11 — 60 years and one day after Bloody Monday.
Bloody Monday is how June 10, 1963, has become known. It was one of the most violent days of the civil rights movement in Danville, when white police and deputized municipal workers turned fire hoses and night sticks on mostly Black demonstrators, injuring at least 47 and arresting 60.
This screening, held at Danville Stadium Cinema, was not open to the public but meant for those interviewed in the documentary and their families. Community screenings will be held this summer, with the first one scheduled for 6 p.m. June 30 at Bibleway Church in Danville.
After the screening, six protesters who appeared in the documentary participated in a question-and-answer discussion. Many of them were teenagers at the time and are now in their 70s and 80s.
Parker said he hopes the community screenings will help tell these stories on a wider scale. For decades, the city did not talk about its civil rights history in a meaningful way, and the movement was often passed over by institutional historians.
Bloody Monday in words and photos
For more about Bloody Monday, including interviews with people who were there and historic photos that have recently been made public, check out our four-part package.
The idea behind ‘The Movement’
Parker himself was in his 30s when he first learned about the summer of 1963, despite being a native of the area. In 2013, he was a reporter with the Chatham Star-Tribune, assigned to cover the 50th anniversary of Bloody Monday.
The city had organized a reenactment of a civil rights march from Bibleway Church to City Hall for the anniversary, followed by remarks from people who participated in the protests, like then-Mayor Sherman Saunders.
“I had done a little bit of research before, so I could cover the event, but overall I was just blown away that I didn’t know anything about [the movement],” Parker said. “I didn’t learn about it in school.”
This newspaper assignment kick-started his interest in Danville’s civil rights history, Parker said, though he didn’t start pursuing the documentary project until years later.
Parker’s interest was also piqued after reading a Washington Post article about Danville’s 2020 protests in response to the murder of George Floyd.
The article quoted Zydasia Swift, a Black organizer of the Danville protests who was 19 at the time, saying she had never learned about Bloody Monday in school.
“I remember thinking, it’s not just the white kids that don’t know about this,” Parker said. “We’re having a hard time keeping the story alive even in the Black community.”
He began working on the documentary about 18 months ago, planning to have it ready for the 60th anniversary. By then, he had left the newspaper business and started a commercial videography business called Parker Productions.
This is the first documentary his team has created from start to finish.
Building trust and racing against the clock
Who’s who in ‘The Movement’
A new documentary about Bloody Monday and Danville’s civil rights movement features interviews with:
Bishop Lawrence Campbell: leader of Bibleway Cathedral and one of the ministers who led the movement.
Carolyn Wilson: a protester in the summer of 1963.
Dorothy Moore-Batson: a protester.
John Pinchback: a protester and the son of Louise and Arthur Pinchback, who also protested.
Rose Cain: a protester.
Sherman Saunders: a protester who went on to be Danville’s third Black mayor and is now a member of the city council.
The Rev. Thurman Echols: the first person to be arrested for protesting on the morning of June 10, 1963. Echols was 16 at the time and his parents were subsequently arrested for not having control over their son.
Robert Zellner: a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who traveled around the South to help with the civil rights movement. He was one of few white protesters in Danville.
Karice Luck-Brimmer: a Danville native and Black historian and genealogist.
Angela McGhee-Harrison: daughter of the Rev. Hildreth McGhee, who, alongside Campbell, helped lead the movement.
Bishop James Woodson II: a protester in 1963, now senior pastor at St. James Home of Fresh Start in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Cynthia Hughes: wife of the late Jimmy Hughes, who ran the Cunningham and Hughes Funeral Home. His parents operated the funeral home in 1963 and used hearses to pick up injured protesters and take them to Winslow Hospital.
The Rev. Doyle Thomas Jr.: son of the Rev. Doyle Thomas, who was a pastor at Loyal Baptist Church and a leader of the movement.
Brenda Fitz: a protester.
Tommy Bennett: president of Danville’s NAACP chapter.
Neal Morris: a young white police officer in 1963 and current head of Danville’s Industrial Development Authority.
Scott Booth: Danville’s current police chief.
This project was challenging, Parker said, partly because of normal obstacles, like a tight shooting schedule. But it was also difficult because the movement, especially Bloody Monday, is a sensitive topic for many who participated.
Parker and his team are all white, so one of Parker’s first steps was to build trust within Danville’s Black community and to establish himself as a reliable caretaker of their stories.
He chose Black collaborators for the documentary, hiring a Black makeup artist and a Black composer to create an original score for the film.
“I get the skepticism of a white person coming into the Black community and wanting to tell their story,” Parker said. “That’s not something I’m offended by.”
He contacted Karice Luck-Brimmer, a local Black historian and genealogist who had grown up hearing stories about Danville’s civil rights movement from older members of her community.
He hoped Luck-Brimmer could connect him with people to interview — but first he had to win her trust, too.
“I’m skeptical of everybody,” Luck-Brimmer said. “I’m protective over some of the people and their stories.”
And though she wanted those stories to be shared with a wider audience, she also wanted it done right, she said.
It’s easy to be distrustful of projects like this, Luck-Brimmer said, because for so long, Danville’s civil rights stories weren’t told, and were neglected by entities like historical societies that can “choose what to protect and preserve.”
And when the story is told by white folks, it’s often done in a way that makes it seem like everything is fixed now, she said. All of this contributed to her skepticism of Parker at first, she said.
She’s a firm believer that the people who participated in Danville’s protests should tell their own stories, she said. And that’s what Parker wanted them to do.
“After he assured me that he was going to capture their stories, I was all in,” Luck-Brimmer said.
Luck-Brimmer told Parker he needed to get the blessing of Bishop Lawrence Campbell, one of the primary leaders of the city’s civil rights movement and a hugely influential figure in the community.
“He got Bishop Campbell’s permission, and I was like, ‘OK, I’m in,’” said Luck-Brimmer, who also appears in the documentary as a historical consultant, though Parker said she was much more than that.
Even after Luck-Brimmer was on board, it still wasn’t smooth sailing.
“A couple of people that I really wanted to tell their stories, they refused,” Luck-Brimmer said. “I guess they’re waiting for somebody Black to come through and make a documentary about this.”
One of them finally warmed up to the idea, she said, but he died before Parker could interview him. She said she can think of three people who died before they could be interviewed.
Parker said he felt like he was working against the clock with the project.
“There were several people we wanted to get and literal life ran out on us,” he said. “That’s the kind of stuff you’re up against. You’ve got to get this story out while people are still alive to tell it.”
Parker did get to interview Campbell a few months before he died in March at the age of 93. It was the last interview Campbell ever gave, Parker said.
Though Campbell didn’t see the completed documentary, other members of his family, including his wife, Gloria, who was also very influential in the civil rights movement, attended the screening.
Even after this project, there are “hundreds of stories that still need to be told” about Danville’s civil rights movement, Parker said.
Maybe one day, a Black documentarian will make a film about the summer of 1963, Luck-Brimmer said. “There’s so much left to the story, and maybe somebody else will come through and capture that someday,” she said.
‘Afraid wasn’t in our vocabulary’
In the documentary, the former protesters describe what it was like to grow up Black in Danville.
“The fact of the matter is that Black people were segregated from the time they were born to the time they were buried. From birth to burial,” Campbell said.
Bishop James Woodson II, who was a protester during the movement, recalls seeing Ku Klux Klan members walking through town with their German shepherd dogs when he was a child. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t like German shepherds as an adult, he said.
When the civil rights movement came around, many young Black people in Danville didn’t hesitate to participate, said Carolyn Wilson, another protester.
Many students and teenagers were involved because they had less to lose, she said. If their parents marched, they might lose their jobs — though that didn’t always stop them, she said.
“I don’t think any of us were afraid,” Wilson said. “‘Afraid’ wasn’t in our vocabulary.”
The protesters talk about being arrested, spending time in jail and, later that summer, attending the March on Washington. Parker even took Wilson and two other protesters, Dorothy Moore-Batson and John Pinchback, back to Washington to film them surrounded by the monuments.
Moore-Batson hadn’t been back to the nation’s capital since 1963, Parker said.
In the documentary, protesters reflect on hearing speeches by Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke in Danville four times in 1963. Wilson smiled as she recalled the brotherhood and sisterhood — the “togetherness” — that he inspired.
Parker also interviewed Robert Zellner, a former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who traveled around the South to help with the movement. He was in Danville on Bloody Monday.
Zellner gets emotional as he recounts how a fire hose washed his fiancee, Dorothy Miller Zellner, under a car. When she tried to get up, a policeman hit her on the back of the head with a nightstick, he said.
The Zellners were two of the very few white protesters in Danville during the movement.
Other protesters recalled the brutality they witnessed. Moore-Batson, who was 18 years old at the time, said she remembers being told by the leaders of the movement to “pray, but don’t close your eyes.”
And still, they weren’t afraid, said Wilson. In fact, the event motivated them further.
“After Bloody Monday, you couldn’t keep any of us away,” she said. “If anything was going to make you stop, that would’ve. But we didn’t.”
What an apology can do — and what it can’t
The documentary also includes a police perspective, as Parker interviewed both Neal Morris, who was a young officer in 1963, and Scott Booth, Danville’s current chief.
“There were a lot of things that were wrong that day and about how people were policed then,” Booth said.
Booth has been credited with reintroducing community policing to Danville, and he’s been working with the city to rebuild the relationship between the police department and the community that was so damaged by Bloody Monday and the summer of 1963.
In 2018, Booth held a public question-and-answer conversation with Campbell on Averett University’s campus. During the conversation, Booth apologized to Campbell for the actions of the police on Bloody Monday.
Booth, as well as former protesters, talk about this moment in Parker’s documentary.
“It meant a lot,” Wilson said about the apology. “He was the first to do that. To acknowledge that there needed to be an apology.”
Pinchback said that the apology was nice, but that Booth wasn’t the one who needed to say he was sorry. The people who were in power at the time are the ones who owe the community an apology, he said.
In the documentary, Morris offers words of appreciation to the protesters.
“I’m glad you did what you did,” he said. “If you got hurt, I’m sorry that you did. That should not have happened.”
And Moore-Batson talks about a decades-late apology that she received from one of the police officers who arrested her in 1963. She was dragged down the street, thrown in the back of a police car and taken to jail for leading a march.
Moore-Batson and her mother ran into the officer at the library several years ago, and he told her he was sorry, she said.
“That brought tears to my eyes,” Moore-Batson said in an interview with Cardinal News. “We were able to live to see this apology. I never dreamed that I would meet him again in life.”
Saunders, who was the third Black mayor of Danville and is now a councilman, said that the city has changed drastically since 1963.
“If you look at Danville then, and look at Danville today, good God it’s like night and day,” he said in the documentary. Now, “we have a police department that I’m proud of.”
Still, there’s more progress to be made, many of the people in the documentary said.
“We’re moving forward, but we’re not there,” said Tommy Bennett, president of Danville’s NAACP chapter, who was a young child during the civil rights movement.
Campbell said he’s proud of the progress that has been made by Black people during his lifetime.
“From picking cotton, to picking the president,” he said in the documentary, which brought a round of applause from the audience.
Parker said that the experience of making the documentary has left an impression on him. It was powerful to hear the stories, to walk the hallways of Winslow Hospital, the Black hospital that treated injured demonstrators during the summer of 1963, and to learn more about the movement that shaped Danville.
“Everyone who sat down and talked to me, that’s a sacred trust,” Parker said. “I’m learning and being shaped by that. These are great teachers to me.”