Lauren Elizabeth Oakes
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Date of Graduation
Master of Arts (MA)
Department of History
This thesis explores the civil rights movement in Danville, Virginia, and focuses on the tactics employed by prominent white men who, because they controlled the city’s leading institutions of power, were able to effectively squelch the movement by the end of the 1963 summer. This paper also traces how the Danville movement followed the path of the classical phase of the national civil rights movement, and represents the manner in which broader trends and events played out in small southern cities. The Danville movement began with a student-led sit-in at the whites only public library a few months after the sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina. Unsure of how to handle such a show of protest against segregated order in Danville, the all-white city council struggled to decide how to proceed. Many of the councilmen drew upon the library’s significance as the last Confederate capitol to defend the continued exclusion of black citizens from the library, while others argued the white voters should decide. Eventually, the federal government intervened, and the library was officially open to all in September of 1960. Three years later, in May 1963, a direct protest movement began shortly after the massive protests in Birmingham, Alabama. Civil rights demonstrators once again surprised Danville with a show of protest, and though white leaders initially struggled to confront the movement, they later created a coalition of white resistance to fight back against the movement. The Danville police borrowed violent control tactics from police chief Bull Connor in Birmingham, the city council passed laws to criminalize the movement and its participants, and the court system made sure all were convicted of their supposed crimes. The Danville civil rights movement was brought to an end by August of 1963 because of the social, judicial, and political power held by local white institutions who worked together to obstruct civil rights achievements in the city.
Oakes, Lauren E., "Worse than Birmingham: How segregationists in Danville obstructed the civil rights movement" (2021). Masters Theses, 2020-current. 73.