Farmville 1963 Civil Rights Protests

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Interactive exhibit: Freedom Now Project
A select group of these images is being presented on Flickr as the Freedom Now Project in the hopes that we might better identify the people and locations photographed. Comments, including remembrances of these events, are highly encouraged and appreciated.

About this collection
This collection of 491 images dates primarily from the summer of 1963, when the demand for equality and for an end to racial segregation brought a series of protests to Farmville, Virginia, the county seat of Prince Edward County. The images show dozens of Prince Edward County African-American high school age students and others using an array of protest tactics to draw attention to racial discrimination in Farmville. The protesters were demanding that local and state authorities eliminate racial segregation in public facilities and reopen the public schools in the county, which had been closed since 1959 to avoid integration.

The protests were organized and led by the Rev. L. Francis Griffin, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmville. They called their summer of protests a “Program of Action.” With the help of members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and others, Griffin trained the students in nonviolent protest. Richmond lawyers Samuel Tucker and Henry Marsh advised the students on how to conduct themselves with law enforcement officials. Many were arrested during the course of the summer.

Civil unrest in Farmville began in late July and continued through September. Protests varied from day to day, week to week, and included sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, picketing segregated businesses, marches that blocked traffic, and other forms of civil disobedience. A large portion of the images show protesters trying in vain to purchase tickets at the segregated movie theater, then picketing the theater. On one Sunday, the protesters participated in a “church-in,” during which African-Americans tried to integrate four white churches in Farmville with mixed success.

Many of these activities are documented in this collection of images. A large number of the original black and white photographs were taken by J.D. Crute, an amateur photographer hired by the Farmville Police Department, under the supervision of Police Chief Otto Smith Overton, who served 42 years before retiring in 1996. These photographs were intended to be used in court proceedings as evidence against any protesters who were arrested. Historian Brian E. Lee, Ph.D., became aware of the photographs during his research and coordinated their use by VCU Libraries for this digital project. Currently the originals are in a private collection.

For more information about the 1963 civil rights protests in Farmville, see “Program of Action: The Rev. L. Francis Griffin and the Struggle for Racial Equality in Farmville, 1963,” by Brian E. Lee and Brian J. Daugherity, in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 2013. For more on the history of Prince Edward County segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, see the Edward H. Peeples Prince Edward County (Va.) Public Schools Collection.

This material is in the public domain in the United States and thus is free of any copyright restriction. Acknowledgement of Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries as a source is requested.