The Dan River Basin: Birthplace of one of the most influential figures in African-American History
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON’S FRANKLIN COUNTY ROOTS
Dr. Booker T. Washington was an educator, author, orator, presidential adviser—and one of Franklin County’s native sons. Born into slavery on a 207-acre plantation in Southwest Virginia, and emancipated at the age of nine, Dr. Washington would eventually go on to found the Tuskegee Institute for the education of African Americans and rise to national fame as a thinker and advocate for African-American rights everywhere.
His birthplace, on the Burroughs Plantation in Hardy, Virginia, is marked by a national monument and has been historically preserved for the thousands of visitors who frequent the site each year. Reconstructions of the farm’s 19th-century buildings, a visitor’s center, tobacco barn, active gardens, fields, farm animals and period actors are just a few of the features of the national park.
FARMVILLE & DANVILLE’S ROLE IN CIVIL RIGHTS HISTORY
In addition to Booker T. Washington birthplace, the Dan River Basin played another important role in the civil rights movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Just a short distance north, Farmville, Virginia became a focal point of the movement, launching a legal case that would eventually be rolled into Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark ruling that labeled segregated schools unconstitutional.
Danville, Virginia really got involved, during a civil rights protest held on June 10, 1963. That evening, 38 protestors were arrested and 65 people sent to the hospital after police and a number of citizens attacked a group of African Americans participating in a prayer vigil. The day became known as Bloody Monday; the site now bears a historical marker. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Danville right after the incident, and would return to speak again eight days later.
Coincidentally, that same year, lifelong Danville resident Wendell Scott became the first African-American stock car driver to win a NASCAR race. The Danville Museum of Fine Arts & History currently has an exhibit that explores the era, titled “The 1963 Danville Civil Rights Movement: The People, the Protests, the Stories.” Featuring photographs and footage from the early 1960s, the exhibit runs through March 3.
LEARNING MORE ABOUT THE DAN RIVER BASIN’S AFRICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY
The birthplace of Dr. Booker T. Washington, Farmville and Danville are often discussed in the annals of African-American and civil rights history. But many places throughout the Dan River region played important parts as well.
The History United project explores the greater history of the Dan River region, including its civil rights heritage. Its website includes oral histories of Dan River residents and a timeline of regional events.
HALIFAX COUNTY’S AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE
Halifax County, Virginia is located east of Danville and southwest of Farmville. It too is home to numerous historical sites from the civil rights era. Like Farmville, the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail runs right through Halifax, County and can traced across the entire southside of Virginia.
In addition, the county developed the Halifax County African-American Cultural & Heritage Trail, its own tour of historical sites. The trail includes five initial stops, all related to the struggle for civil rights:
Find out more on Halifax County’s history tourism website.
ROCKINGHAM COUNTY’S CIVIL RIGHTS INVOLVEMENT
The North Carolina Piedmont played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. On February 1, 1960, four students at the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina sat down at the whites-only Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter and refused to leave when they were denied service, sparking a protest that lasted six months.
Lifelong Eden resident, Malcolm Allen, participated in the Greensboro sit-ins while a student at North Carolina A&T. He later became president of the Eden NAACP chapter.
Residents of nearby Rockingham County also took part in the push for civil rights, with the Reidsville Chamber of NAACP initiating a school desegregation campaign where they worked to secure positions for African Americans on the local police force.
The Museum and Archives of Rockingham County documents the county’s civil rights history alongside other historical exhibits.
CASWELL COUNTY AND SCHOOL DESEGREGATION
A six-year running battle over school integration played out in Caswell County, North Carolina. Deborah Brown’s 2004 book “Dead-End Road” explores the era through the point-of-view of Jasper Brown, the author’s father-in-law. Jasper Brown fought for integration as part of the Caswell County Branch of the NAACP. But on the day schools were integrated, police arrested him for shooting two men, albeit in self-defense. “Dead-End Road” follows Jasper Brown through his struggle for civil rights and the trial that came after.
You don’t have to read a book to learn about civil rights history in Caswell County, though. Mel Battle, a member of the county school board who spent 35 years working in the school system, took part in civil rights movement. He remembers being a high school student in Goldsboro in 1963, with segregated schools and businesses. That summer, he and his sister joined the non-violent movement, leading to Battle’s attending a Martin Luther King speech in Washington, D.C., and later King’s funeral in Atlanta.