Think Like a Historian
Exploring Historical Manipulation and Interpretation in Danville, VA
Topics to Explore
- The Danville “Riot” of 1883
- “The Last Capitol”: The Sutherlin Mansion’s Confederate Legacy in the 1910s
- The Civil Rights protests in Danville during the 1960s
The Benedict House, Danville, VA— c. 1865. Just another house in Danville, or something more?
How do historians understand what happened in the past? Why do so many historical topics seem to be frequently revisited by professionals when they’ve already been discussed?
New perspectives, sources, and interpretations change how we understand the past.
Note: The topics explored in this packet deal with racial segregation, tension, and violence. The DMFAH believes that all students have the right to study history, and in doing so, better inform themselves about modern societal issues. These are important topics that should not be taken lightly. We trust students and educators to study these stories and learn from them.
Civil Rights in Danville, Virginia
This video gives an overview of Bloody Monday, a critical moment in the civil rights movement within Danville, Virginia.
How did this happen? What societal context led to this moment? How can responsible historians track societal attitudes and actions throughout the decades and understand the events surrounding Bloody Monday?
How Do We Think Like Historians When Examining Sources?
Watch the video below to hear a basic introduction on historical thinking and primary source analysis! These are critical to understanding the situations leading to Bloody Monday. Without these guidelines, it may be difficult to responsibly analyze historical sources.
Real-World Applications in Danville, VA History
For this exercise, the class will split into groups and analyze historical documents like a professional researcher. The groups are:
- Group One: The Danville “Riot” of 1883
- Group Two: “The Last Capitol” Narrative of the 1910s
- Group Three: The Civil Rights Protests in Danville
“Most of us spend too much time on the last twenty-four hours and too little on the last six thousand years.”
— Historian Will Durant
Groups for the DMFAH Historical Analysis Activity Packet
Danville, c. 1885. UVA Special Collections.
In 1883, street violence broke out in downtown Danville, leaving 4 African-American citizens and one white citizen dead. The racially charged incident was documented in extensive court documents and public newspapers.
What can you tell about the history of Danville in 1883 based on these newspaper clippings, photographs, and court interviews?
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According to popular local stories, the Sutherlin Mansion is indisputably the “Last Capitol” of the Confederacy. Is this true? The unclear past of the mansion is documented in many letters, newspapers, and books from the late 1800s and early 1900s— and even some of the Confederate soldiers’ diaries.
Do you think the Sutherlin Mansion is the “Last Capitol” after reviewing these documents? Is there another Danville location that might claim the title?
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Sutherlin Mansion, c. 1900. DMFAH.
The 1960s shook the nation as protesters fought for civil rights across the country. The civil rights protests in Danville were tumultuous, and involved countless members of the Danville community.
Using documents from the 1960s, what were general attitudes and beliefs in Danville during this time? What can you learn about the protesters and those who opposed them?
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- DMFAH Document Analysis Activity Kit
The Fight for Civil Rights, from Reconstruction through the 1960s
Made possible with the contributions provided by Virginia Humanities.