Danville’s Black Heritage Tour

Special thanks to our guest bloggers, Karice Luck-Brimmer (left) and Kirsten Aherron (right), for crafting a post for Virginia Main Street’s Black History Month blog series! Katrice is an historian and genealogist, as well as the Community Initiatives Program Associate for Virginia Humanities. Kirsten serves as the Communications and Events Manager for the River District Association (RDA) in Danville, Virginia, a welcoming and lively place for all. 

Danville’s River District is home to the business district centered on North Union Street, often referred to in the past as “Union Bottom.”  The area, once home to tobacco warehouses, emerged later as Danville’s African American Business District.  From the late 1800’s, African American businesses lined North Union Street, and remnants of the entrepreneurial spirit of those business owners is still visible today.  Many of the buildings and business owners of this vibrant Black business district played significant roles in the Civil Rights Movement in Danville, and beyond.  

To celebrate this heritage, the River District Association (RDA) has partnered with local historian and genealogist, Karice Luck-Brimmer, owner of Our History Matters, to create a self-guided Black Heritage Tour, through RDA’s Distrx app.  The tour leads participants through Union Bottom and brings to life the stories and history of  business owners and civic leaders located there.  

“I hope that, when people take this tour, they walk away with a greater appreciation for African-American life and that our future business leaders will become inspired by the history of the early AA businesses that once lined North Union Street.” – Katrice Luck-Brimmer, Owner, Our History Matters

One of the stories you will hear is about the Merrit Building at 226 N. Union Street.  In the 1960’s, the building was owned by Mr. Bishop Merritt, an African American dentist for whom the building was named after. In 1963, the building also housed the office of the Danville Christian Progressive Association (DCPA), who were affiliated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The president of SCLC was the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and this location was the meeting place for Civil Rights groups in 1963.

The DCPA was founded in early 1963 by Rev. Chase of High Street Baptist Church, along with two of his colleagues (Bishop Lawrence G. Campbell of Bibleway Church and Rev. AI Dunlap). The DCPA organized an event on March 26th, 1963 and invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr to speak. Dr. King made his remarks that day at Danville City Auditorium to a crowd of more than 2,500; it was here that he stated that Danville had one of the most brutal police forces he had ever seen.

“Danville has such a rich, impressive history, and we are thankful to partner with organizations that do a fantastic job educating our community about all that has happened here. There is so much to learn about this dynamic and culturally diverse city, and thankfully our community members are up to the task.”

– Diana Schwartz, Executive Director, River District Association

Having started the tour, participants see a map with the stop numbers. As they approach each stop, a beacon will activate a recorded story. The story can also be read if they prefer. They can also be accessed remotely, even if you can’t physically visit Danville. The audio, text and photos in the tour will lead you through the North Union business district. We invite you to join us in experiencing stories, challenges and triumphs of Danville’s black entrepreneurs and civic leaders!