The Rev. Lawrence G. Campbell was a fugitive from justice when he marched on Washington. While he sang and listened to speeches on the Mall 20 years ago, police here in his home town were searching his house.
The preacher remembers he did not care about being a fugitive because he needed that trip north.
"I was like a soldier who had been given a day off from the battlefield," says Campbell. "Going to Washington was like being revitalized after the kind of pressure-cooking situation we were in in Danville."
Throughout the summer of 1963, Danville cooked and occasionally boiled over with the heat generated by the collision of the civil rights movement and the city's angry allegiance to segregation. More than anywhere else in Virginia, demands for racial equality were answered in this tobacco and textile town with repression, arrests and violence.
Before the demonstrations began here that summer, schools, parks, libraries, drinking fountains, cemeteries, as well as most restaurants and motels were segregated. In a town of 46,000 people, one-third of whom were black, there were no black policemen or black firemen or black members of any controlling board or agency.
Almost as soon as the marching started in 1963, a local judge banned all further street demonstrations. When 65 blacks marched one night in June, they were doused with water from high-pressure hoses and beaten with new night sticks issued to police and deputized garbage-truck drivers. Forty-seven marchers were hospitalized.
Campbell, then 33 years old, was one of three local black ministers who brought the civil rights movement to Danville, which is located in Southside Virginia near the North Carolina border. The young preacher was arrested several times that summer and charged with inciting riotous and disorderly conduct. A Justice Department lawyer who was dispatched from Washington to ease racial tensions here described Campbell as one of "the only Negroes that count in Danville."
On the day before the March on Washington, Campbell again violated the injunction against demonstrating but managed to leave town before being arrested.
In Washington, among thousands of people who were sympathetic to his struggle back home, Campbell recalls "a celebration of hope" that made him eager to get back to Danville. As it turned out, when he returned home he was arrested on a warrant for illegal parading.
"You got with all those people in Washington who had gone through the same kind of thing in other parts of the South and you felt like you had support," says Campbell. "It was not like saying we had arrived, but we were on our way."
Twenty years later, by many measures, the minister has arrived.
Campbell is now 53 years old, but he looks younger. He is handsome, fit and self-possessed. He is the founder and bishop of Bibleway Worldwide Church in Danville, the largest black congregation in town. It has 700 active members and four parking lots. The minister is a force to be reckoned with in local politics. He drives a black Cadillac Fleetwood with his initials--LGC--on the license plates.
Danville, too, has come a long way from 1963 when one exasperated black minister said that it "was the last capital of the Confederacy and it seems like it wants to become known as the last capital of segregation."
Public accommodations and schools have long been integrated. The mayor is black, as are two members of the five-member School Board (Campbell is one of them). Former mayor Julian R. Stinson, who refused to meet with the minister in 1963, has since defended Campbell and his cause, saying that black demands in the 1960s were "105 percent right."
Campbell, however, says appearances here are deceiving.
"As far as the subtleties of race relations are concerned, Danville has not changed," he says, pointing out that there are still only eight blacks on the 104-member police force and six blacks on the 89-member fire department.
Far more disconcerting, Campbell says, is the decline over the last 10 years in the number of registered voters. There are now about 1,500 fewer blacks registered to vote in Danville than there were in 1973.
"The momentum of the civil rights movement has been lost here. The flame isn't out, but it isn't as hot as it was," says Campbell. "It may be that black people allow whites to be racists by not registering to vote. We have lost ground."