Pittsylvania County, VA

The largest county in the state of Virginia, Pittsylvania County borders North Carolina and surrounds the city of Danville in Southside Virginia. The county was 30.9 % African American in 1950, and led the state in the number of tenant farms (2,908), and was second only to Halifax in the number of sharecroppers. The county was overwhelmingly rural, and like its neighbors, Halifax, Mecklenberg, and Lunenburg, it was tied to the tobacco economy. In 1950 Pittsylvania farmers produced the highest valued crops in the state, selling over $12 million in products, mostly tobacco. Pittsylvania farmers, especially those that worked small farms, labored under an increasingly difficult federal crop acreage allotment system for flue-cured tobacco. As the federal system curtailed production, some tobacco farmers began experimenting with other leafs, such as aromatic or Turkish tobacco, to compete in a different market and earn higher prices. Pittsylvania voted traditionally for the Byrd conservative Democrats. In 1956 the School Board of Pittsylvania appointed two committees, one black and one white, to sample local reaction to the idea of desegregation. The black community committee heard at a mass meeting of over 300 black residents that they unanimously supported the Supreme Court's Brown decision and wanted desegregation to proceed immediately. On the other hand, the white community committees overwhelmingly voted to close the county schools rather than integrate them. (see Washington Post, October 26, 1956) Pittsylvania County attracted the Ku Klux Klan which held several rallies and meetings in the county; however, Sheriff Henry O. Winn declared in 1960, "No Ku Klux Klan will come into this county until Melvin Giles, the Commonwealth's Attorney, give his approval." (New York Times, August 21, 1960) In 1964 both the city of Danville and Pittsylvania County became strongholds of white support for Barry Goldwater, the conservative Republican candidate for president. Local white politicians refused to endorse Lyndon Johnson and criticized Mills Godwin and other state Democratic leaders for doing so.