The Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, the Rev. R.G. Williams and three local students had already spent more than 24 hours in the city jail for trespassing at Petersburg’s segregated public library, when in the early evening of Tuesday, March 8, 1960, more than 200 protesters marched.
Despite a chilling 26 degrees and snow-covered ground, the protestors marched from First Baptist Church on Harrison Street past the library and toward the courthouse.
The Rev. Milton Reid had called for a prayer vigil with 200 people on the courthouse steps. City officials ordered all floodlights, which normally illuminated the courthouse area, turned off during the 35-minute service. But protesters were prepared and had brought flashlights. Some white spectators booed from across the street, but they had no choice but to listen as Reid addressed the crowd.
“[This is] a pilgrimage of prayer to give impetus to the struggle and to encourage our ministers and students who are in prison,” Reid said.
Across the courthouse were the lightened windows of the city jail, where five of those arrested on the city’s new trespassing charge remained behind bars. Among those who voiced protest against the city ordinance were three local white men. “Any white or Negro citizen […] is subject to be addressed under this law,” Reid told the crowd, referring to the support from white citizens.
Then protesters unanimously adopted a resolution declaring that they will be “jailed by the thousands and while there, make plans for full integration and equal rights behind prison bars.”
While the protesters were in jail, they received much support from anti-segregationists statewide. “People held prayer meetings everywhere,” Ann Walker said.
Walker also remembers a couple who came from as far as New York to show support for her husband. “They said they had heard about it, a white couple,” she said. “They came to our house, and they had a sleeping bag with them. They wanted to support. They said they didn’t need a bed, they opened their sleeping bags and wanted to sleep under the dining room table. I told them that was alright. Len Holt [of Norfolk, field secretary of the Congress of Racial Equality] told me later he checked on the background of these people, and told me to get them out of the house because they had communist leanings. I didn’t know it,” Walker said, laughing.