Monday Bloody Monday

Documentary “The Movement” sheds light on Danville’s Bloody Monday, the most violent episode of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in Virginia.

After the fall of Richmond, the Confederate government relocated to Danville in the waning days of the Civil War.

For white Danvillians in the middle of the last century, the fact that their city had served as the last capital of the Confederacy was a point of pride. Danville Public Library, housed in a former mansion where the last meeting of the Confederate government took place, held a place of honor for them.

That’s partly why the city’s white citizenry reacted so intensely when nine Black high school students demanded the right to use the whites-only library in 1960. Instead of desegregating the facility, the city closed it and opened a whites-only private library.

These actions would further foment civil rights protests in Danville, leading to the creation of the Danville Christian Progressive Association. The group was affiliated with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

On June 5, 1963, DCPA protesters marched into Danville City Hall and occupied the city manager’s office. Bond was set at $5,000 for each arrested protester, more than the median income for a Danville family in 1960. Five days later, 38 protesters were arrested and jailed for participating in the protests. That evening, additional protesters met at the city jail to hold a prayer vigil in support.

It was then that that Bloody Monday took place, the most violent episode of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in Virginia. Police and deputized white municipal workers attacked the peaceful protesters with billy clubs and fire hoses, sending 65 people to the city’s African American hospital.

If you are unfamiliar with this chapter of Danville history, you aren’t alone. Jonathan Parker, who grew up largely in neighboring Pittsylvania County, hadn’t heard of it either until he was assigned to do a story about the 50th anniversary of Bloody Monday as a reporter for the Chatham Star-Tribune.

“I grew up in county schools and I couldn’t believe that this had happened,” says Parker, who was in his 30s when he first learned about it.

Parker and his wife Rebecca filmed a 75-minute documentary called “The Movement” to help publicize this history. The film debuted last year and is now available to rent or purchase on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

The movie poster for “The Movement” that features the Municipal Building that factored into protests on Bloody Monday.

 

On Thursday, the Library of Virginia will host a free screening of the documentary and a discussion led by public historian Karice Luck-Brimmer, who also served as a historical content producer on the film. Some of the 1963 protesters will be in attendance.

Part of Parker’s mission with the film, he says, was to capture the protesters’ stories before it was too late. Apostle Lawrence G. Campbell Sr., a civil rights icon in Danville, died at 93 between filming and the documentary’s premiere.

“We’re losing the people who can tell the story firsthand, that were there, that lived it,” says Parker, the film’s director and executive producer; his wife also served as an executive producer. “A lot of the protesters back then were teenagers. They were high schoolers 60 years ago. They’re getting older, and I think it’s powerful to hear the story from the people who lived it and not from people who studied it.”

A still from an interview with Apostle Lawrence G. Campbell Sr., a civil rights icon in Danville who passed before the film was finished.

 

Parker hopes audiences get a better understanding of the protests, which received national press attention at the time but were overshadowed by other civil rights events. King offered protesters his “full, personal support” when he arrived in Danville on July 11; that August, John Lewis mentioned Danville in his speech during the March on Washington.

“It’s the flashpoint of the summer where you’ve got these non-violent protesters, many of them women and children, and you’ve got governmental power that’s decided they’ve just had enough and they want to show who’s in charge,” Parker explains. “They rushed those people with hoses and with clubs and they beat people badly. It’s called Bloody Monday for a reason. It was so bad that they had hearses from Black funeral homes showing up to serve as ambulances. They didn’t have enough ambulances to take people to the all-Black hospital. They were triaging people in church parking lots. It was horrible.”

Parker calls the protesters “heroes” and hopes people come away from the film with a better understanding of who they are.

“They’re working to make the world a better place for their children and their grandchildren and those who come after them.”

“The Movement” will screen June 6 at the Library of Virginia, 800 E. Broad St. The event is free and starts at 5:30 p.m. Registration is required. For more information, visit lva.virginia.gov.

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