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First Baptist youth researched remarkable local black history facts in 1990

Thirty years ago, the Youth Organization of First Baptist Church on Walnut Street decided to observe Black History Month with a program on black heritage in Danville, according to a front-page news story on Feb. 25, 1990.

The 15 members of the organization, who were all girls between the ages of 9 and 15, spent three weeks researching and writing about local black history and the people who went on to become famous.

According to one of the adult leaders, Mary Hill, the girls were “really excited” about how much information they found and what they had learned, and were ready to present their program to the congregation on Sunday night. 

According to the newspaper article, their research showed that blacks had owned newspapers, bakeries, started fraternal organizations and even had a brass band. They collected the information from old newspaper clippings, reading library books and talking with older blacks in the community.

They discovered that at least nine black doctors had practiced medicine in Danville before 1990. And the first known black person to serve in local government was the Rev. J.E. Woods, who was elected in 1907. The newspaper story said the girls learned that black people in Danville formed American Legion posts, Odd Fellows and Order of the Eastern Star. And in the 1800s, the Boyle County Colored Agricultural and Mechanical Association was formed to sponsor fairs.

“First Baptist youngsters have learned that black history is more than what is carved out on the national level by people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, the article read. They also learned of the local blacks who made history in Danville, such as Sam Proctor, who became the first black to vote in Danville when he went to the polls on Nov. 11, 1870; and Oscar Butler, who lived in California in 1990 and held the patent to a meter that was used in taxicabs.

Also, in 1935, Danville native Todd Duncan was the first performer in the role of Porgy and was picked by George Gershwin to star in “Porgy and Bess”

More contemporary black people featured in the program included Danville native Larnelle Harris, who was, and still is, a Grammy-winning gospel singer, and Bunny Davis, who was a member of the city commission.

Bandy Peters, who also worked on the project said she knew Davis was the first black to serve a term as mayor pro tem, and was a member of her church. But she was surprised to learn about his sports background and that he was a member of the first integrated semi-pro baseball team.

The article stated, “Sifting through over 100 years of history also showed a shift in the way black are described. Colored gave way to black. Black was the word of choice for the young women at First Baptist. ‘Colored can mean purple or anything,’ said April Walker.”