DANVILLE, VA, Mid-1963
Louis Nasper
SNCC Field Worker

(Originally published in Freedomways, 1st Quarter, 1964)

[See Danville VA, Movement for more information.]

In the alley between the court house and the jail, Reverend H.G. McGhee was on his knees praying for an end to beatings and jailings. Behind him were sixty-five fellow demonstrators.

Mayor Stinson, standing nearby, told Police Chief Bull McCain, "All right, go get 'em." Police and newly-deputized firemen, bus drivers, cabbies, garbage men, and water meter readers barricaded the alley and turned on high pressure hoses. While demonstrators staggered from the force of the water, the "posse" attacked them with riot sticks, black-jacks, and sawed-off baseball bats. Some forty-eight people were hospitalized for injuries that night. Some had broken noses, open head wounds, broken limbs, and lacerated breasts. Prior to the march all demonstrators had turned in all pencils, nail files, and anything resembling a weapon, and they had committed themselves to nonviolence.

Danville is in central Virginia seven miles from the North Carolina border. It is the home of Dan River Mills, Inc., the makers of Dan River cottons; and the largest single-unit textile mill in the world. The city is literally run by the mill, which employs twenty five per cent of the work force. One-third of the total population is Negro but only 900 of the 10,000 mill workers are Negro.

For six weeks last summer, I helped picket, register voters, write news releases and plan demonstrations. My nights were spent at mass meetings, informal examples of democracy in action. Only once did a Danville white person walk with us. One day a boy of ten with no shoes on asked if he could join the picket line. We said yes, and he picketed with us for about an hour. When police stopped him, he told them he was 13 so (as he later explained) they wouldn't say, "Go home, little kid." We took him to the office and he called his mother. She was frightened and asked him to come home before the police or some youngsters roughed him up. He started to cry and said, "But mommy, they can only hurt you on the outside, not on the inside." He didn't come back.

Copyright © Louis Nasper, 1963

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