Black high school students sit-in, desegregate public libraries in Danville, VA, 1960.


Black students called for desegregation of the Danville Public Library System.

Time period notes

The actual sit-in only lasted one day, but the response continued for months afterward.

Time period

2 April, 1960 to 14 September, 1960


United States

Location City/State/Province

Danville, Virginia
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

  • Students visited the white-only Ballou Park.

Segment Length

5 weeks

Notes on Methods

The inactivity noted in later segments is because the issue was moved from the confrontation in the library to the courts. Once the court ruled in favor of desegregation, the threat remained of renewed sit-ins if the City did not comply and in that sense the direct action campaign remained a factor in the change process.


Robert Williams, Jr.
Chalmers Mebane, Jr.


Youth Council for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

External allies

Committee for Public Libraries


Danville City Council, Danville Library Foundation

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known.

Campaigner violence

Not known.

Repressive Violence

No repressive violence.


Human Rights



Group characterization

African American High School Students

Groups in 1st Segment

NAACP Youth Council Members
Danville Chapter of NAACP
John M. Langston High School students

Groups in 3rd Segment

Committee for Public Libraries (enter)

Segment Length

5 weeks

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

5 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

8 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

When the public libraries integrated, they functioned without tables and chairs and required all members to purchase an expensive new library card to have access. Students made no progress toward the desegregation of the public parks.

Database Narrative

Inspired by the February, 1960 launch of the student sit-in movement in Greensboro, North Carolina, high school student Chalmers Mebane decided to stage a sit-in in his city of Danville, Virginia. He and his African American friends collaborated with students on the Youth Council for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to plan a sit-in at a lunch counter at Woolworth’s. 

A week before the planned lunch counter sit-in, Robert Williams, a member of the Youth Council, convinced the group to shift its focus to Danville Public Library and Ballou Park, two publicly whites-only spaces.

Danville had two public libraries: the Danville Public Library for white patrons and the William Grasty Branch Library for black patrons. The Grasty Branch Library, officially established only in the 1950s, held only 10% of the collection available at the Danville Public Library.

On Saturday, 2 April 1960, 16 students from John M. Langston High School walked into Danville Public Library to check out books. When the library refused service, the students sat at tables on the first floor and did homework assignments until the head librarian closed the library twenty minutes later. 

After leaving, the group visited Ballou Park for over an hour before police arrived and threatened arrest for trespassing. The group left at the police orders and no arrests occurred.

Two days later, the city council of Danville voted to restrict library access to those who had a library card. The students tried to sit-in at the library again, but the new policy prevented them from being there without risking arrest. The local chapter of the NAACP helped the students file an injunction against the City of Danville for unequal treatment at the public libraries. 

On 14 May, the NAACP won the injunction in the United States District Court, but the city council voted on 19 May to close all library branches before integration could took place at the end of the month.

Over the summer, the city council decided to put the future of the libraries to a city-wide vote. Either the public library system would remain closed, or it would reopen on an integrated basis. 

The NAACP and the Committee for Public Libraries spoke in favor of reopening the libraries. The Danville Library Foundation was a strong opponent of library integration, stating that if the public library system closed, the private library system could continue serving white patrons. On 14 June, in a 2 to 1 margin, voters voted in favor of keeping the public libraries closed. However, the vote did not appear representative of the population; in a city of 47 thousand people, less than 20 percent were registered voters due to voting restrictions such as poll taxes.

In August, the NAACP attempted several unsuccessful negotiations with the city council to reopen the libraries. On 14 September 1960, the city council reopened and integrated the libraries, partly because the private library system could not handle all the patrons. However, integration occurred under several conditions. First, both libraries had to remove all tables and chairs. Second, patrons could not search for books on their own, but place requests at the front desk instead. Third, patrons had to pay a $2.50 usage fee ($19.40 adjusted for 2013 inflation) to receive an updated library card. The council explained the measures were part of a 90-day trial period, but it is unclear when the restrictions ended, as they continued for several months.


The students were influenced by the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in earlier that year.


Press, Associated. "Young Negroes Invade Library, Bringing About Early Closing." The Bee [Danville, VA] 02 Apr 1960, A1-A2. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Press, Associated. "Council Limits Use of Main Library and Parks to Head Off Further Negro Demonstrations." The Bee [Danville, VA] 04 Apr 1960, A1-A2. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Press, Associated. "Negroes Seek Court Order on Library." The Bee [Danville, VA] 11 Apr 1960, A1-A2. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Press, Associated. "Council Votes to Close Library at Close of Day Friday." The Bee [Danville, VA] 19 May 1960, A1. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Press, Associated. "Library Group Mails Appeal." The Bee [Danville, VA] 08 Jun 1960, C2. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Press, Associated. "Racial Body is Favored by NAACP." The Bee [Danville, VA] 29 Aug 1960, A1-A2. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Press, Associated. "Library Debate Reaches Climax." The Bee [Danville, VA] 13 Jun 1960, A1-A2. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Press, Associated. "Danville Votes to Shut Down Public Library." The Afro American [Baltimore, MD] 25 Jun 1960, A3. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Jenkins, Ruth. "A Library Where Readers Can't Even Read a Book." The Baltimore Afro American [Baltimore, MD] 04 Oct 1960, A1-A2. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Mebane, Jr., Chalmers. "Students for Change: 1960's Sit-ins." Emerge Magazine. Feb 2012: 22-26. Print.

Edmunds, Emma. "Robert A. Williams: Attorney, Williams, Luck & Williams: Martinsville, Virginia." Virginia Center for Digital History. University of Virginia, n.d. Web. 24 Mar 2014. <>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Kerry Robinson, 24/03/2014