Danville woman shares personal story to emphasize importance of black history

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DANVILLE (WSLS 10) - When Paula Smith was just 10 years old, she attempted to take a ride on a Danville city bus at the request of her father in an effort to test the city's compliance with desegregation laws.

"The way he wanted to do it was for me to get on the bus, ride one block up the street, get off, and come back to [First State Bank]," Smith explained.

She got on the bus, but the ride never happened.

"I sat right behind the driver. The driver turned around and said to me 'you're going to have to move to the back,'" Smith recalled. "Well, my father had schooled me on that. I needed to say 'I'm comfortable where I am.'"

After asking multiple times, the driver called police and had her escorted off the bus.

Her father sued the city, but she said she hasn't been able to find any records indicating whether he won.

"I'm thankful for my father. He had courage and vision and steadfastness," Smith said.

She told those in attendance about her father being chosen for a grand jury and refusing to sign an indictment against some Civil Rights demonstrators in the city.

"Instead, he filed a minority report to state that the police were not serving and protecting the community as they should've been," said Smith.

She also spoke about him suing the state to get a state park established for blacks.

Years after the bus incident, she found out a picture of her as a child was being used to promote desegregation in schools, so consequently, she became the poster child for school desegregation.

Danville Community College English instructor Kyesha Jennings organized Tuesday's presentation. "I hope that it makes my students feel proud to be from Danville; to be proud of the Civil Rights history here," Jennings said.

Smith said she was glad to tell her father's story, hoping it helps emphasize the importance of celebrating black history.

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