Black History Month
In honor of Black History Month, Pittsylvania County will be featuring several local African-Americans who made an impact on our community. These individuals spearheaded significant social change in Pittsylvania County over the decades, particularly during the Civil Rights Movement.
Unless otherwise noted, the information featured comes from family members or public records.
Clyde L. Banks, Sr.
The late Clyde L. Banks Sr. was a lifelong resident of Pittsylvania County, respected Civil Rights and community leader, and prominent local business man.
"We the citizens of Chatham, Pittsylvania County, Danville, and the surrounding areas stand on the shoulders of this Civil Rights activist," said Willie Fitzgerald, a Pittsylvania County and former president of the Pittsylvania County NAACP.
After serving in the United States Navy, Banks operated the Travelers Inn in Chatham for nearly 40 years. During the Civil Rights movement, Banks was jailed during sit-in in Danville, helped many African-Americans find work, lobbied to get black people hired as Sheriff's Deputies, and fought to ingrate schools and secure equal salaries for black and white teachers. Banks was also very active in the Pittsylvania County branch of the NAACP, serving as its president for many years.
Banks passed away at the age of 84 in 2008, but the impact he made in our community remains to this day. To recognize the impact that the late Mr. Banks had on Pittsylvania County, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution during their January meeting to rename the Chatham South Bridge after him.
"Mr. Banks was a very conscientious member of our community. He was a business man, a vocal civil rights leader, an advocate of equal pay for African-American teachers, a proponent for equal education," Charles Miller, Supervisor for the Banister District, said right after the vote. "There has never been an instance in which the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors has shown its courtesy, its love, and respect for the African American community like they have tonight with their vote."
The resolution has been passed onto the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which has the authority to rename highways, bridges, and other transportation facilities.
"Banks" Roy Breedlove
Irvin C. Burton, Sr.
A quiet but determined advocate for public education for all Pittsylvania County students and one of the founders of Pittsylvania County Community Action, Irvin C. Burton Sr. helped drive significant social change in Pittsylvania County.
"He devoted his life in working quietly but persistently for a change for everyone," his daughter, Dorothy Burton Neals, said.
As a leader with organizations like the Blairs Civic League and the Pittsylvania County National Association of Colored People (NAACP), Burton persistently pushed for educational improvements. This included efforts to integrate several area schools, successful campaigns for bond referendums to erect new high schools, and a push to construct a new high school for students at the southern end of Pittsylvania County.
Burton also worked tirelessly to ensure that Black people could be equally involved in the community, particularly in civil processes. He fought for Black people to have opportunity to be elected to the Board of Supervisors, Pittsylvania County School Board, and other elected positions, and he was also instrumental in allowing African-Americans to be appointed as Sheriff's Deputies and on County Boards and Commissions. In addition to playing a major role in opening opportunities for African-Americans to serve, he also fought for them to have the right to vote and often helped them through the registration process.
Burton had a diverse career which included stints as a landscaper, worker at Dan River Mills, and President of Burton Tire Co. He helped spearhead the creation of Pittsylvania County Community Action, a nonprofit that provides comprehensive services for low income families, in the 1960s. Since then, Pittsylvania County Community Action has become a multi-jurisdictional service, providing services in Pittsylvania County, Danville, Henry County, and Martinsville.
Burton died in 1998 at the age of 89. After his death, a wing of Dan River Middle School was named after him in 2004 and the bridge on Route 360 East over the Danville Expressway was named the Irvin C. Burton Sr. Memorial Bridge in 2015 at the unanimous recommendation of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors.
"He continued to work for a peaceful understanding between the races, a better education for everyone, and served as a mentor for a generation of African-American community leaders," Neals said.