Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Patricia Sullivan


During the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and in the historiography, Virginia held a racially moderate reputation. Scholarship on civil rights in Virginia typically credits racial moderation with implementing integration in the state while avoiding major violence and protest. In Southside Virginia, the rural south-central area of the state dominated by tobacco and textile mills with a substantial black population, two towns became the sites of significant civil rights activity. Both Farmville and Danville had direct-action movements spearheaded by local African American students and activists, but these movements drew limited national attention despite extreme reaction and retaliation by local whites. Farmville (the county seat of Prince Edward County) was the locale where one of Brown v. Board of Education suits originated; in response to the ruling to integrate, the county closed all public schools for five years. The Danville movement saw enormous police brutality in response to marches and sit-ins, but it did not sustain national media attention despite support from national activist organizations, so it seemingly failed. Analysis of these two local movements reveals that in Southside Virginia, it was not that racial “moderation” prevented major demonstrations. Instead there was a coordinated effort among the white social and political elite, motivated by an ideology heavily influenced by southern paternalism, honor, and Confederate memory, to undermine and suppress the direct-action tactics attempted by local black activists. The local movements found some progress when they attacked structural discrimination at the environmental and economic levels.

Included in

History Commons