Field Report: Voting Rights March
Bill Monnie, SCOPE
Lunenberg, VA. July 29-August 4, 1965

[Because of the impending passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act the activities of the SCOPE Chapter expanded significantly beyond the ongoing activities of community organization and political education during the period of this report. A written directive from Hosea L. Williams in Atlanta for the Lunenburg SCOPE Chapter to organize on short notice a major demonstration in support of the Voting Right Act presented the County with a unique challenge. Were it not for the activities of the community leading up to this unexpected demonstration, it is doubtful that the demonstration which translated into a march on the Lunenburg County Courthouse would have been as successful as it was. The report for this period begins with the activities leading up to the demonstration/march that occurred on Tuesday, August 3rd. For the sake of clarity I am inserting at this point in the report a separate report that covered the actual event. — Bill Monnie]

On Thursday, July 29th, Herbert V. Coulton (SCLC Director for Virginia) and David Gunter from Petersburg, VA attended a Farmer's Meeting in Kenbridge, VA at the St. Matthews Baptist Church which was held at 8 p.m. At the end of the meeting both Mr. Coulton and Mr. Gunter spoke to the group. They pointed out the need for the people of the County to meet the responsibilities of participating in their government and the Civil rights Movement. Mr. Coulton closed the meeting with the announcement that there would be demonstrations throughout the Southern States on Tuesday, August 3rd. The purpose of these demonstrations would be to protest the delay in the passage of the Voting Rights Act. If the Act was passed at the time of the demonstrations, then the people would march to the Courthouse to register to vote. The demonstrations were to take place in all the Counties in which SCOPE Chapters were working throughout the South.

The people seemed quite enthused about having the march. There were a few reservations on the part of some people who attended the meeting but the reception was generally enthusiastic. The meeting was considered to be representative of all of the magisterial districts in the County except one.

The next day on Friday, July 30th, we received a letter from Hosea Williams asking us to mobilize for a demonstration which was to occur on Tuesday, August 3rd. We were led to believe that all of the SCOPE Chapters throughout the South would take part in this demonstration.

On Saturday, July 31st, we were made aware of the fact that the NAACP group in the County was hesitant about supporting this demonstration. There were two reasons for this. They told us that one of the conditions for SCOPE coming into this County was that there would be no demonstrations. They felt that SCOPE and the NAACP would be going back on their word and acting in "bad faith" if the demonstration was held. There was also concern over the fact the State NAACP would not approve of the demonstration, especially if the NAACP could not lead the march.

It was decided to hold a NAACP Executive Board meeting in Victoria on Saturday, July 31st at 8:00 p.m. The members met and listened to our presentation of all the information on the demonstration that we had up to that time. The NAACP Board decided that the Lunenburg County NAACP could not support the march officially but individual members could participate in the march if they wanted to.

It was the opinion of all of the SCOPE volunteers, as a result of contact with the people in all parts of the County, that the people were generally receptive to the idea of a demonstration. It was for this reason that we called a meeting to be held after the NAACP Executive Board meeting to decide whether or not to have the march/demonstration. We invited the leaders in the community who are not members of the NAACP Executive Board to attend the meeting. Of course the members of the Board also attended this meeting after their meeting.

There was a general apprehension among many of the people at the meeting about having a demonstration. The main trouble was that they did not understand exactly what a demonstration entailed. After the "mechanics" of a demonstration were explained by the SCOPE volunteers, the people at the meeting gave their full support to the demonstration/march. The main trouble seemed to be that the people did not understand the intricacies of a march and were thus apprehensive. After it was explained that everything that was going to be done was going to be "legal," the atmosphere cleared.

The group decided to adopt the principles stated in Mr. Hosea Williams' letter explaining the need for South-wide demonstrations. It was decided to protest the delay in the Voting Rights Act's passage. The group also decided to protest the fact that in many ways the Act was still inadequate because the Poll Tax had not been abolished. They decided to protest the inadequate registration hours at the court house. Also, they decided to protest discrimination on the Poll Tax lists (The Poll Tax list lists the people who pay their Poll Taxes into Colored and White sections and refuses to put the word "Mrs." Before a Negro woman's name.). It was also felt that this march would show to the County, State, and Nation that the Negroes in Lunenburg County were united in a common cause.

The rest of the meeting was spent in planning the details of the march. It was agreed that "flyers" should be mimeographed explaining where the march was to take place and the purposes of the march. These "flyers" would be distributed in the local Churches the next day on Sunday, August 1st.

All day Sunday, August 1st, and Monday, August 2nd, was spent in contacting people and making preparations for the march. The "flyers" were mimeographed Saturday evening and distributed to the Churches on Sunday.

It was announced on WKLV Radio, Blackstone, VA, on Saturday, July 31st, that the all-White Kenbridge Town Council had passed a resolution urging the Electoral Board of Lunenburg County to grant adequate hours for registration (This was after news leaked out that we were planning a march.). It was also rumored that late Saturday evening the Electoral Board met and agreed to change the days of registration. This was confirmed on Monday when a notice was put on the courthouse door that the hours had been changed. The registration days are now on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays and the 2nd and 4th Thursdays each month from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. This provides the County with one registration day per week for most months. We immediately contacted the local leaders about the development and it was suggested that we eliminate inadequate hours for registration as an issue in the demonstration. Instead, a sign was made expressing the gratitude of the citizens of Lunenburg County to the Electoral Board for granting them their request for more adequate registration days.

People started arriving for the march by 10 a.m., Tuesday, August 3rd. At 10"45 a.m. everyone gathered in the First Baptist Church, Victoria, VA nearby the SCOPE Office. The marchers were given instructions concerning the procedure of the march, and the marshals for the march were pointed out to them. The meeting had been opened up with prayer and a few songs. Then Reverend C. A. Greenville, the pastor of the Church, spoke to the people, and we ended with some Freedom songs.

The march started at the First Baptist Church with Reverend Greenhill leading; the marchers walked single file. There were 290 persons participating in the march. The marches walked from Victoria, VA to the Lunenburg Courthouse on Route 49, a distance of 4 miles. There were no incidents along the way. The State Police provided 4 cars plus two police cars from the local towns of Kenbridge and Victoria. The FBI had a car there also. The marchers sang as they walked along. Out of the 290 people marching, there were 110 adults and 180 youth. The group left Victoria at 11 a.m. and arrived at the Lunenburg County Courthouse at 1 p.m.; the group stopped about 1 mile from the courthouse for a 10 minute water break.

At the courthouse the group had 10 minutes of silent prayer and meditation. Then the group walked to the nearby Tusekiah Baptist Church and a short program was held. The Tusekiah Church is the oldest Negro Church in this County; it was formed just after the Civil War. Reverend C. A. Greenhill spoke to the group about the importance of getting out to register on Saturday, August 7th. The meeting was closed by everyone joining hands and singing the song, "We Shall Overcome."

Only one reporter was covering the march. His name is Bob Holland, and he works for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The coverage that he gave us was excellent. The march also made State-wide TV and radio coverage. The only radio station that gave us negative coverage was a local radio station in Blackstone, VA, WKLV. They stated that SCOPE had brought in a lot of people from outside the County to participate in the march. In fact they said that the majority of the people in the march were "outside agitators." The SCOPE workers were practically the only "outsiders" participating in the march.

The march created much enthusiasm among the people in the County. We feel that the march in itself was successful. But we are also hoping that the march will have stimulated the people of the County to get out on Saturday, August 7th, to register to vote.

To give you an idea of the enthusiasm created by the march among the people, a political education class had been scheduled for that evening by Bill Monnie in the Brown's Store District. A poor turnout was expected because he felt the people would be tired from the march. But there were 31 people in attendance at the meeting, and they were quite enthusiastic despite their weariness.

Copyright © Bill Monnie, 1965

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