George Weatherford remembers June 1963 in Danville.
The 76-year-old recalled joining a group of residents on the steps of the Municipal Building and singing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” and being told by the chief of police to disperse within five minutes.
Five minutes later, the police showed up with clubs and attack dogs.
“I thought the police was going to kill us,” Weatherford said during an interview at the Salvation Army building on Henry Street on Sunday afternoon. “They were really whuppin’ heads.”
Most of the crowd ran away to Bibleway Cathedral on Grant Street, but Weatherford and a few others pelted the police with rocks from a bank across from Grant Street while the cops followed the crowd.
During an event held Sunday, Weatherford and three other Danville residents present who lived through Blood Monday — Bernard Payne, Brenda Cardwell Lewis and Danville City Councilman Sherman Saunders — were recognized during a ceremony. They received medals for themselves or on behalf of their relatives.
The event, “America’s Sunday Supper: Growth through Sacrifice,” was hosted by Averett University’s Center for Community Engagement and Career Competitiveness and History United. The medals, one of which was also awarded to the Rev. William Avon Keen for his efforts toward advancing civil rights, came from the center and History United.
“We’re all doing what we’re doing on the backs of giants,” center director Billy Wooten said during the ceremony, referring to Martin Luther King Jr. and others who worked toward racial progress.
What began as a day of protests more than 50 years ago in Danville ended in violence, becoming known as Bloody Monday.
On the night of June 10, 1963, about 50 civil rights marchers had gathered outside Danville’s jail to hold a prayer vigil for those who had been arrested during protests earlier in the day. Deputized city workers, police officers and state troopers carrying high-pressure fire hoses and nightsticks injured about 47 black demonstrators, turning the event into a pivotal moment for Danville’s civil rights movement.
The incident was a culmination of frustration and protests resulting from racism and institutional discrimination against blacks in Danville and across the South.
Saunders’ mother, Cordelia Saunders, and a few other ladies were protesting segregation and discrimination in front of the mayor’s house in 1963 — before Bloody Monday. She was arrested and jailed.
“She knew she had to take a stand,” said Saunders, who was 15 in 1963.
Forty-five years later, Saunders would become mayor of Danville and serve four two-year terms until 2016.
“God had a plan,” he said.
Sunday’s event at the Salvation Army included the recognition ceremony for the five citizens, and community conversation during a meal provided by KFC.
The purpose was “to bring the community together,” said Tia Yancey, director of community engagement at the CCECC.
“We have a very diverse group today,” Yancey told the Danville Register & Bee. “It opens eyes for everyone.”
“If we are going to be a city of inclusion and diversity, then more of these conversations need to happen,” said History United Director Chad Martin.