June 10, 1963, might be just another day on the calendar for many people today, but for many African American residents of Danville, the anniversary of the Bloody Monday attacks on peaceful civil rights protesters likely remains a painful memory, a raw wound that still hasn’t healed 56 years later.
That’s why Chief Scott Booth’s heartfelt apology for how the Danville Police Department — the department he now leads — handled the demonstration and treated the protesters, is so important.
That evening, about 50 people staged a peaceful march to the city jail where they planned to hold a prayer vigil for colleagues and friends arrested earlier in the day. What they encountered was nothing short of mob of whites determined to stop them, no matter what.
Except that the “mob” was made up of deputized city workers, police officers and state troopers with high-pressure fire hoses and nightsticks. The hoses were turned on, full blast, against women and children; the nightsticks rained down blow after blow on the men and women. Many sought medical care at the hospital for wounds received.
Several days before Bloody Monday, about 100 peaceful demonstrators had held a series of protests in the city on June 5 including a sit-in at the offices of the mayor and city manager. As authorities cracked down, the number of protesters grew up to about 250, and tensions started to rise. Police later claimed bricks and bottles were thrown at them, but protesters categorically denied the charges.
On June 6, judge imposed an injunction prohibiting any demonstrations in the city, but that Monday, local civil rights leaders and their supporters pledged to ignore what they considered an unconstitutional infringement on their First Amendment rights. For merely exercising their rights to “petition the government for a redress of grievances” and “peaceably to assemble,” they were terrorized to within an inch of their lives.
But the “judicial” system of Danville and Jim Crow Virginia continued to terrorize the city’s African American community and the victims of Bloody Monday for years to come. There were summary convictions of demonstrators on little or no evidence — or evidence concocted out of thin air. Court cases, in some instances, dragged on until 1973. Families were separated, sometimes for months or years, when parents in Danville sent their children to live with relatives in the North so they could avoid the violence taking over their hometown.
Fastforward 56 years and a day.
Chief Booth is attending a ceremony honoring local civil rights leader Bishop Lawrence Campbell Sr. Campbell, the pastor of Bibleway Cathedral and the father of City Councilman Lawrence Campbell Jr., had just finished describing the events of Bloody Monday and how the chief of police at the time had beaten his wife, Gloria, leaving her with physical pain she feels to this day.
Then, something amazing happened: Booth apologized on behalf of his department for its actions that horrible day. In doing so, he became the first city police official in 56 years to take responsibility for the events of that day.
Mayor Alonzo Jones, we believe, expressed the sentiments of us all in an interview with the Register & Bee: “The chief is trying to bring the community together. He’s trying to unite. What better way to unite the community than to share an apology.”
Perhaps now, at long last, the city can truly begin healing the wounds of Bloody Monday.