Students of American history learn about the Civil Rights movement in this country – about marches and sit-ins in places like Birmingham and Selma, but at Virginia Commonwealth University there’s a new project underway – an online display of photographs from one of many other cities where such protests took place.
VCU is hoping the public can help identify participants and share details of what went on.
Farmville, Virginia is a small town in Prince Edward County, once known for tobacco, then for furniture, and it may soon be known as one of many places in the South where, in 1963, protests occurred following lunch counter sit-ins, attacks on archers and Freedom Riders in Birmingham, Alabama.
“You start to see essentially copy cat protests launched in communities across the South that scholars typically refer to as Little Birminghams – most notably in Danville, where there was significant violence, but also in Charlottesville, Richmond and here in Farmville.”
That’s Brian Daugherity, assistant professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s been working with the library at VCU to post 277 photographs taken by police as black and white residents of Farmville tried to desegregate the city and win equal treatment for African-Americans.
“I think in Prince Edward in particular, there had been a history of surveillance, because the white police force and the white leadership of the county wanted to preserve unity among the white race, and so they carried out surveillance among whites that might be so-called race traitors.”
Some pictures were taken at a local lunch counter, where blacks were served coffee.
“When they tried the coffee itself, they realized that it had been filled with salt.”
Others documented a strategy used by protesters at the movie theater on Main Street.
“One would step up to the booth and try and purchase a ticket, and when denied they would step away, and behind him or her another potential patron would step up and try to do the same thing, and they were able to circle the ticket booth and tie-up the traffic, as well as send a message to the ownership.”
Daughterity says you can search under The Freedom Project at VCU to view those pictures and help historians tell the tale.
“Another goal of putting the images online is to try to get community input in identifying some of the participants in the march, and also trying to record some of the memories of people – participants or residents or interested parties.”
The protests in Farmville were not violent, and soon after some of those who took part headed for the March on Washington in August of ’63.