Danville Police Chief Scott Booth publicly apologized for the police department’s brutality toward civil rights demonstrators during an event known as Bloody Monday in 1963.
It was the first such apology from a city police chief and it came just one day after the 56th anniversary of the June 10, 1963, incident.
Booth gave the apology after local civil rights leader Bishop Lawrence Campbell Sr., pastor at Bibleway Cathedral, recounted his wife, Gloria, being beaten by the police chief at that time.
“I have forgiven him and I hope that God does too,” Campbell said during a special interview led by Booth during an event held at Averett University on Tuesday afternoon.
Booth responded by saying he offers his “heartfelt apology” for what the police department did to Campbell’s wife and to the African-American community during Bloody Monday.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard that [from a police chief],” Campbell responded.
Campbell told Booth — and the audience of about 40 people — of what happened to his wife after being asked how he continued to heal from those events 56 years ago to make Danville a better place.
Tuesday’s event, “1963 to 2019: a chat with Bishop Lawrence Campbell,” was held at Averett’s Mary B. Blount Library by History United, Averett’s Center for Community Engagement and Career Competitiveness and the police department.
The event also was held to promote Campbell’s newly released book, “1963: A Turning Point in Civil Rights.”
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 nightsticks and high-pressure fire hoses 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.
Campbell told the Danville Register & Bee in 2013 he had been jailed that day and released that evening. He was not one of those protesters gathered outside the jail.
“When I saw my wife, that dress had been beaten halfway off,” Campbell, who was at the church that night, said in 2013. “Periodically, she still has the pain from that beating that she received.”
During an interview before Tuesday’s event, Campbell told the Register & Bee the city has progressed since 1963, when black people did not serve on boards or with the municipality. They could only get menial jobs.
“It’s come a long way,” Campbell said. “Blacks are participants in the affairs of Danville.”
He said he wrote his book because most of the witnesses and participants in the protests from 1963 are no longer alive.
“I thought there should be a record for people to look at and see where we were and where we are,” Campbell said.
Averett President Tiffany Franks, while introducing Campbell at the start of the event, said “he’s always been a fierce advocate of education.”
In January, Averett presented its first President’s Service Award to Campbell, a U.S. Navy veteran who graduated from Averett in 1973.
“I am in awe of the very public life he has led,” Franks said. “We are blessed and fortunate to be in the presence of history.”
During Booth’s interview, he asked Campbell what lessons he thinks Danville has learned from Bloody Monday, especially since Martin Luther King Jr. — who visited Danville four times — said the city’s police brutality was the worst he ever encountered.
“The police department could use some black officers,” Campbell said. “I think you’re headed in the right direction with community policing.”
Booth said 11% of police officers in the city are black, but he would like to see that figure better represent Danville, whose African-American population is around 50%.
“I will not be happy until our department reflects the community that we serve,” Booth said.
Campbell said white churches in Danville stayed silent during the 1963 protests — except for the Rev. R.J. Barber Jr., who called King a “communist” and a “rabble-rouser.”
“I see so much hypocrisy with the white church,” Campbell said.
Black people join white churches, but white people will not join black churches, he said. If a black person joins a white church, the white people will leave that church, he said.
Campbell added he has not seen enough appreciation among young people for black history and figures like King, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.
During questions from the public, Campbell’s son City Councilman Larry Campbell Jr. asked what the reasons were for black-on-black shootings in the city.
“I don’t know,” the elder Campbell responded. “I never thought the day would come when we would be our own worst enemy.”
Booth said of the issue, “I don’t think it’s an easy answer. It’s everybody’s problem.”
Campbell, when asked by the Register & Bee how he felt about Booth’s apology, said, “It was a long time coming. I’m very appreciative that it came.”
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7987.