I was immersed in the history of the American South in college. This particular academic discipline captivates me. In 2007, I got accepted to the University of Mississippi’s Southern Studies program. The plan was to pursue a PhD in History with a specialization in the American Civil Rights Movement. At the last minute, I decided to attend Texas A&M University and pursue a Master’s in Public Administration. The reason for the switch was because I didn’t want to be a professor. I thought teaching at the college level was boring (ironic).
I want to take the next couple of weeks and highlight heroes in the Civil Rights Movement that have inspired me for years. This week’s hero is Diane Nash.
In 1960, a group of students from Fisk University started a nonviolent direct action campaign to end racial segregation at lunch counters in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. These students were led by a smart, young college student from Chicago named, Diane Nash.
Diane Nash organized sit-ins at lunch counters all throughout Nashville. Students at these sit-ins often were confronted by angry patrons who would pour hot coffee on them, beat them, spit on them, and generally degrade them.
Diane Nash confronted the Mayor of Nashville on the steps of City Hall and asked, “Do you feel it is wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of their race or color?”, the mayor admitted that he did. Three weeks later, the lunch counters of Nashville were serving blacks.
The violence that occurred during the Freedom Rides (movement to end segregated public buses) was shocking. Young people were dragged of buses and beaten in front of police and crowds in Mississippi and Alabama. Many of the freedom riders decided to quit the campaign.
Nash stated that, “It was clear to me that if we allowed the Freedom Ride to stop at that point, just after so much violence had been inflicted, the message would have been sent that all you have to do to stop a nonviolent campaign is inflict massive violence.”
Diane Nash took it upon herself to keep the movement going and led Freedom Rides from Birmingham, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi. Leaders across the nation urged Nash to not take on the responsibility of leading the Freedom Rides. She boldly replied, “We know someone will be killed, but we cannot let violence overcome nonviolence.” Without Diane Nash and the students she led, the Freedom Ride campaign would not have been successful in desegregating bus in the deep south.
I’m Harold Dorrell Briscoe. Thanks for reading.