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'Bloody Monday' remembered
Echols recalls his part in Danville demonstrations
The Rev. Thurman Echols Jr. holds a photograph of his arrest on June 10, 1963, on the morning of ‘Bloody Monday’ in Danville. Echols talked about that event Wednesday at the former Henry County Courthouse in Martinsville. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
It may have been 50 years since “Bloody Monday,” but the Rev. Thurman O. Echols Jr. remembers well the role he played in a landmark moment in civil rights history.
Echols, 66, had only recently turned 16 years old when he marched to the Danville Municipal Building on June 10, 1963, with a group of his fellow high school students.
It wasn’t the first peaceful protest that Echols had taken part in that summer, however.
Echols, pastor of Moral Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Axton, shared his story Wednesday at the former Henry County courthouse in uptown Martinsville in an event set up by New College Institute.
“When I first heard of the civil rights movement, I was probably in the fourth or fifth grade,” Echols said. “I heard about this preacher down in Montgomery by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ... In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King came to Danville. ... That summer, we started demonstrating in Danville. A group of us were into demonstrations in Danville, marched peacefully down the street.”
Echols said that these marches largely were ignored by the media at the time.
“Danville paid no attention to it,” he said. There was “nothing in the news. I guess that was to kill the movement by not responding or getting anything publicized in the papers.”
Peaceful sit-in demonstrations also occurred at the time in Danville, according to Echols, likely inspired by four black students who had staged a sit-in at a whites-only lunch counter at a Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, N.C., in February 1960.
Similar sit-ins occurred at a number of sites in Danville, including Woolworth’s, Howard Johnson’s and Holiday Inn, Echols said.
These demonstrations also did not receive any publicity, he said.
The civil rights movement was building steam in the city, however, and on Monday, June 10, 1963, it boiled over.
“My father had told me that morning before he left for work at Danville Mills, he told me and made it emphatically clear, crystal clear, not to go down and demonstrate,” Echols said. “My father had just built a home over on Grant Street where the demonstrations had started. He had to work. He had to take care of the rest of my brothers and sisters.”
However, Echols said, like most teenagers, he was a bit hard-headed. He gathered up a group of classmates and began to march, singing a modified version of the gospel song “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round”:
“Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round, oh turn me ’round, oh turn me ’round,
“Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round, gonna keep on walkin’, keep on talkin’,
“Walkin’ up the freedom way.”
“I was singing that,” Echols said. “I was all into it like I was in the church service. ... A policeman came up and said to me — all of the policemen knew me, I don’t know how they knew me, but they knew me by name — he said, ‘Thurman Echols, you’re under arrest.’”
The police officers’ plan, Echols said, was to arrest a handful of student leaders of the demonstration and hope that the rest would disperse.
“But that didn’t happen,” Echols said. “One of my classmates in high school hollered out, ‘If you arrest Thurman Echols, you’re going to have to arrest all of us.’ That’s when (the police) took hose pipes, washed people down in the street ... it was awful that Monday morning.”
However, Echols said, the march he took part in that morning was not the reason that the day became known as “Bloody Monday.” A second demonstration occurred that evening, he said, and the demonstrators again had hoses turned on them. Some were chased down the street, and several dozen required medical attention.
Echols was arrested that morning, but he was not alone. His parents also were arrested. His mother was picked up at the home, and the police showed up at Dan River Mills to arrest his father at his place of employment.
The charge? Contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
“I had to pay a fine, and I was put on probation for two years,” Echols said. “I was so glad when those two years were up. ... I caught the morning train to college. Not the evening train, because that was too late. I wanted to get out of Danville as quick as I could.”
In 1965, Echols enrolled at Virginia Union University, a historically black university in Richmond. On April 4, 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Echols helped stage a demonstration at the university.
Shortly thereafter, he received a letter from Dr. Thomas Howard Henderson, the president of the university.
The letter, according to Echols, said: “On receipt of this letter, you’re no longer enrolled at Virginia Union. You have been identified as one of the leaders of the protests, and Virginia Union is a school for higher learning and for matriculation ... it is not a school for protest and advocacy.”
In spite of — or perhaps because of — his experiences in the 1960s, Echols remains positive.
“I said to one of my friends not long ago,” he said, “if anybody ought to be bitter and hate people, I should be one of those, because of some of the things that I’ve been the victim of. But I don’t. I’m not bitter today; I’m better. I’m a better person today because of what I’ve gone through and things that I’ve been a part of.”
“For years,” he added, “I didn’t even want to talk about it, what had happened. But, over the years, time heals all wounds, and I’m grateful for it. I have no regrets for participating.”
Today, a historical marker stands on Patton Street to serve as a reminder of the events of “Bloody Monday.” It was erected in 2007 at Echols’ request.
As for his experience at Virginia Union University, Echols spoke to Dr. Henderson and convinced the president to allow him to return to the school.
On May 11, 2013, the university presented Echols with an honorary doctoral degree for his accomplishments in the civil rights movement, civic activism and community service.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” Echols said.