Danville local and civil rights hero Dorothy Batson recalls Bloody Monday experience

Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 6:15 PM EDT
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DANVILLE, Va. (WDBJ) - In the middle of the City of Danville sits a marker that signifies one of the key events in the Civil Rights Movement: Bloody Monday.

Dorothy Batson is a local who was just 18 on the then city courthouse steps on June 10, 1963.

“I was not beaten that night, I just got bruises and scrapes from trying to run down the stairs of the courthouse,” said Batson. “But, it was it was like a nightmare. It was unbelievable.”

Batson and other activists peacefully protested segregation that spring.

“The Civil Rights Movement had started all over the country. Here in Danville, it was the same. We knew that we had to say to the City of Danville, to the state of Virginia, and to the United States that we are tired of being second class citizens,” said Batson.

That summer, the city banned any assembly of people in public.

“From here on out, when we ask the colored people to disperse, we hope that they will disperse with the same attitude that our white people have been compelled to do for the last few weeks,” said 1963 Mayor Julian Stinson. “In the event they do not, we’re going to use whatever means at our command to enforce this decision.”

The night of Bloody Monday, police clubbed and fire-hosed the marchers injuring 47 and arresting 60.

“Whenever we went out to march it was like, something may happen to you. But I don’t think there was any fear in me. I just knew this is something I had to do,” added Batson.

The event gained national attention. Dr. Martin Luther King visited Danville on July 11 to show support for the protestors.

“Dr. King said one time, he had been all over the south, but this was the worst that he had seen the police act. So, that tells you a lot,” explained Batson.

“I’ve seen some brutal things in the path of policemen across the south in our struggle” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “But very seldom, if ever, have I heard of a police force being as brutal and vicious as the police force here in Danville, Virginia.”

She met Martin Luther King Jr. many times and led his Southern Christian Leadership Program program in Danville teaching people how to read.

“I recently had someone to tell me that they were very grateful that I taught their mom how to read and write before she left this planet. That just made me feel really good,” said Batson.

She was later arrested that summer of 1963 and spent a week in jail for leading a peaceful protest.

Her mother saw her picture on the front page of the newspaper and immediately joined the effort.

Batson says the women in her life played a big part in her determination.

“My mom and my aunts were very strong black women. I’ve met a lot of people who would say to me, ‘how did you live with all that going on?’ And my answer is, ‘they taught us how to live,” said Batson.

This year will mark the 60th anniversary of Bloody Monday.

Batson’s hope is that young women will focus on doing good for their community and stand up for their beliefs.

“I can see now that it was a good time to do what we were doing. I can see that it helped a lot. We’ve come a long ways, but we’ve got a long ways to go,” said Batson.