Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



In at least some measure, the Negro demonstrations of the 1960's were an attempt to create tensions and intimidate the white public into taking actions favored by the black minority, or, that failing, to provoke such a savage reaction from the whites as to arouse national public opinion. Violence and threats of violence were an integral part of this strategy. It is to the credit of Virginia leaders at all levels that they recognized this overt threat and refused to yield to extra-legal tactics. One of the most unhappy legacies of the 1960's was the wide-spread notion that questions of public policy should be determined by mobs in the street." Not infrequently it seemed that even the federal judiciary viewed the behavior of Negro demonstrators as somehow above the law. At first glance the judicial receptivity to civil rights demands would appear to remove any necessity for protest activity, but in fact the judicial climate encouraged the belief that almost any conduct by blacks in the name of "civil rights," short of personal violence, would be upheld as a form of free expression. Whatever the flaws in Danville's handling of the demonstrations, Virginians correctly insisted upon obedience to law and established procedure. Illegal practices in Danville or errors by Judge Aiken could be corrected on appeal and did not furnish an excuse for street mobs... The Danville experience suggests the limitation of mass demonstration as a tactic to encourage social change. Only under unique circumstances--favorable national publicity, clumsy and obnoxious local government authorities subject to ready vilification, timely federal assistance--could they succeed. In short, the Danville disorders show the ease with which the South could maintain racial segregation absent federal intervention.