July 8, 2015
Stir the Soul:  Civil Rights Songs that Moved a Nation

On May 22, the Danville Museum opened an exhibit, “Mending a Nation:  Civil Rights in Post-Civil War Danville, Virginia.”  The exhibit highlights poignant events in Danville’s history that relate to the Reconstruction Constitutional amendments related to freedom, citizenship, and voting rights.  This exhibit highlights the barriers African Americans faced even after these Amendments were ratified.  Many are aware of the Danville’s 1963 Bloody Monday, but are unaware of the even more violent Race Riot of 1883.  Jim Crow segregation followed.  While many women fought for African American rights, they could not vote until well into the 20th century. This exhibit continues the museum’s recognition of the Sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War and Danville’s role as the Last Capital of the Confederacy. 

Stir the Soul is a special event at the end of the exhibit to celebrate its success and draw people to see it before it closes.  During exhibit research, it was brought to my attention that SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) Freedom Singers visited Danville in 1963, one of the points in time that is highlighted.  SNCC  activist, Matthew Jones, wrote a song about Danville that gained considerable popularity and brought to my attention the genre of Civil Rights songs.  Fred Motley, a performing arts instructor and playwright, agreed to organize a Civil Rights song event.  Motley organizes “Keeping the Oral Tradition Alive” storytelling festival each year at this museum and has a far reach in the region for cultural contacts.

Stir the Soul will be a great opportunity for local residents that housed Civil Rights activists to share their stories and, hopefully, re-unite.  Young people will learn about local history through these songs and the surrounding narrative.  The museum will also collect contact information for oral histories.  This public concert and sing-a-long is an excellent follow-up to the museum’s 2014 “Danville Sings” multi-church choir concert and youth Solo Festival in May 2015.  The concert will take place on the grounds of the museum.

For more information, visit the museum’s website at www.danvillemuseum.org or call (434) 793-5644. Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History is located at 975 Main Street, Danville, Virginia.