There’s now a replica of part of a 1960s lunch counter at the Danville Museum of Fine Arts & History. There’s also a replica of a voting booth from that era, as well as photos and information about participants in Danville’s civil rights movement.
It’s all part of a permanent exhibit highlighting the city’s civil rights history to be unveiled next month.
“It’s quite moving,” said Larry Wilburn, interim executive director of the museum.
“The Movement: Danville’s Civil Rights,” officially open during a reception from 2 to 5 p.m. Aug. 10 at the museum at 975 Main St.
Also to be included are videos of recent interviews with local civil rights participants, as well as footage from the civil rights era in Danville and Chicago.
The exhibit helps tell a more complete story of the building’s history, which includes Confederate President Jefferson Davis spending a week there when it was known simply as the Sutherlin Mansion, the home of Danville wartime quartermaster Maj. William T. Sutherlin, during the last days of the Civil War in April 1865.
Nearly a century later in 1960 when the building was a whites-only library, local African American citizens held a sit-in there to protest segregation. It closed, only to re-open a month later with its chairs removed.
“It’s especially special that the building we’re working in is part of multiple histories — not just the Civil War but civil rights,” said Wenn Harold, education and technical facilitator at the museum. “We’re just hoping that when people see this exhibit, they not only see it, but they feel what was happening from 1960 through 1969.”
The library closed in 1972 and the museum opened two years later.
Chad Martin, executive director of Danville-based History United, also pointed out the building’s story.
“It’s amazing to know the history of that building,” said Martin, mentioning its Confederate past, the segregated library and now the permanent civil rights exhibit.
He also expressed optimism about the exhibit coming not long after Danville Police Chief Scott Booth’s public apology for police brutality against African American protesters during the Bloody Monday demonstrations in 1963.
“It’s almost like the wrongs of the past are being turned around,” Martin said.
History United, a program under Virginia Humanities that receives funding from the Danville Regional Foundation, takes local stories from Danville and Pittsylvania County — as well as Caswell County in North Carolina — to preserve the history that bridges people together.
Participants from Danville’s civil rights movement will be at the reception, Harold said.
The exhibit is part of the museum’s 2019-21 strategic plan to be more inclusive and diverse, Wilburn said. The exhibit will evolve over time.
“The Movement” is an expansion of an earlier exhibit that Emma Edmunds, of History United, researched for and donated to the museum. It previously was displayed at the Danvillian Gallery a few years ago and at the museum for Black History Month earlier this year.
Results from a random survey conducted by a firm in April included a recommendation to make the local civil rights movement a permanent exhibit, Wilburn said.
The museum’s hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens, $4 for students ages 7 through college and free for children 6 and younger.
Admission is free for museum members, members of the North American Reciprocal Museum Association, members of the Anne Eliza Johns Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and active members of the military.
For more information, call the museum at (434) 793-5644.
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.