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How Freedom Rider Diane Nash Risked Her Life to Desegregate the South

March 8, 2018 in History

By Thad Morgan

Charles H. Percy, right, chairman of the platform committee of the Republican Party, speaking with Walter Bradford, Diane Nash, and Bernard Lee on July 20, 1960. (Credit: AP Photo)

“Diane, you’ve gotten in with the wrong bunch.”

Those were the words that civil rights activist Diane Nash heard when her grandmother found out she was involved in the Civil Rights Movement in 1960. Imagine her grandmother’s surprise when she found out that Nash wasn’t just involved, but was leading the charge of the Nashville student sit-ins. Later, in fact, she would go on to help coordinate the Freedom Rides.

The response of Nash’s family was one that many others would express throughout her journey: fear. And with the violence and discrimination that was rampant throughout the country in the 1950s and ‘60s, it’s easy to see why.

Nash was born in 1938 and raised in Chicago, away from the strong racial divisions that saw African Americans treated as second-class citizens under Jim Crow laws in the South. It wasn’t until she enrolled at the historically black Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1959 that she came face-to-face with overt discrimination.

“There were signs that said white, white-only, colored. [The] library was segregated, the public library. Parks, swimming pools, hotels, motels,” she recalls. “I was at a period where I was interested in expanding: going new places, seeing new things, meeting new people. So that felt very confined and uncomfortable.”

Among the many facilities that weren’t available to Nash and her peers were restaurants that served black customers only on a “takeout basis,” which meant they weren’t allowed to sit and eat inside. Instead, black patrons were forced to eat along the curbs and alleys of Nashville during the lunch hour.

Charles H. Percy, right, chairman of the platform committee of the Republican Party, speaking with Walter Bradford, Diane Nash, and Bernard Lee on July 20, 1960. (Credit: AP Photo)

Nash couldn’t adhere to these rules. In her eyes, that would be agreeing with the unjust laws. But before she could take a stand against these restaurants—essentially protesting the government itself—she needed a plan of action. Enter Jim Lawson, an activist who had studied Gandhi’s nonviolent movement in India, and taught workshops on progress and change through nonviolence at a Methodist church near the university.

The spring after she enrolled at Fisk, just shy of 22 years old, Nash became a leader in the Nashville Student Central Committee, which organized sit-ins at discriminatory restaurants throughout the city. Faced with a fuming community that did everything in their power to …read more

Source: HISTORY

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