Our Civil Rights Movement
The Frist Art Museum opened its new exhibit, “We Shall Overcome: Civil Rights and the Nashville Press, 1957-1968,” depicting in news photos our rich Civil Rights history. Most people, even Nashvillians, are unaware that our city was ground zero for the American Civil Rights movement.
College students including Diane Nash and John Lewis received training in nonviolence from Rev. James Lawson, then staged lunch counter sit-ins, organized and deployed the Freedom Riders, and fanned out across the South to lead the Civil Rights movement.
This photo from the Frist exhibit was taken on April 19, 1960, after the home of defense attorney Z. Alexander Looby was bombed in response to the sit-ins. The photo shows the students and 2500 other protesters marching on City Hall, where Nash confronted Mayor Ben West with this question: “Do you feel it is wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of their race or color?” West, choosing conscience over politics, said yes. Following that day, Nashville became the first Southern city to begin peacefully integrating its businesses.
To launch this fine exhibit, the Frist hosted a panel discussion that I attended, “Voices from the Front Lines,” led by Tennessee State University history professor Linda Wynn and including former students who participated in Nashville's Civil Rights movement.