Civil Rights Timeline, 1624 – 2012

Part Two: 1947-1956.

1947 Apr 15    Jackie Robinson becomes the first African American to join a white professional baseball team when he is hired by the Dodgers. He will win the first MLB Rookie Award later the same year, and the Major League MVP Award in 1949.

Jackie Robinson, 1950

1947 Fall         Indiana University integrates its basketball team when it adds William Garrett to its roster. He is the first black player in the Big Ten and will be named an All-American in 1951. As other schools follow Indiana’s lead over the next few years, an unspoken “gentlemen’s agreement” evolves, limiting to three the number of black players on the floor at any one time.

1947 Dec         President Truman’s Civil Rights Committee issues its report, “To Secure These Rights,” which positions America’s harsh treatment of its black citizens against our criticism of Communism’s destruction of its citizens’ individual rights. Among other things, the report, which at the time is considered quite radical, calls for segregation to be abolished (first and foremost in government and the military), for lynching to become a federal crime, for poll taxes to be outlawed, for voting rights to be guaranteed for all citizens, and for a United States Commission on Civil Rights to be established.

1948 May 3     Sipes v. McGhee, a Michigan case, leads to Shelley v. Kraemer, in which the Supreme Court rules that, although no statute prohibits racially restrictive covenants in property deeds [written to block Asians, Jews, or African Americans from purchasing property in a neighborhood], no state or federal court can enforce them.

1948 Jul 26     President Harry S Truman signs Executive Order 9981, which establishes the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services. It is accompanied by Executive Order 9980, creating a Fair Employment Board to eliminate racial discrimination in federal employment. [This will require an additional change in Department of Defense policy. See entry for July 26, 1963.]

1949                William Henry Hastie is the first African American to be appointed a federal judge, when President Truman names him judge of the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Hastie, a native of Knoxville, graduated first in his class from Amherst and took his law degree at Harvard University. One of his law students at Howard University was Thurgood Marshall.

1950-1960       During this decade over 100 Native American tribes are legally terminated, resulting in federal takeover of native lands, relocation of thousands of Indians, and the weakening of tribal governments nationwide. One example is the powerful Catawba Indian Nation of South Carolina, which was recognized by Congress in 1848 and 1854. In 1959 the federal government terminates them as a tribe. Not until 1993 is this decision reversed, after they win a settlement for longstanding land claims they have disputed since 1904, and they are established once again as a Federal Tribe with full treaty status.

1950                African-American diplomat Ralph J. Bunche receives the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the Arab-Israeli truce. He had also played a critical role in the formation and administration of the United Nations, chartered in 1945.

1950                Gwendolyn Brooks is the first African-American writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Poets Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes, 1949 (photo courtesy of Chicago Public Library)

1950 Nov 1     Chuck Cooper becomes the first African-American professional basketball player when he takes the floor with the Boston Celtics against the Fort Wayne Pistons.

1951                The University of Tennessee admits its first African-American students.

1952                The first year since 1881 without a recorded lynching. However, lynchings will continue to occur in America, the last on record being that of Michael Donald in Mobile, Alabama, in 1981.

1952                The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) passes a resolution introduced by the Yale Law School faculty two years earlier, making racial integration a requirement for membership in the organization.

1953 Fall         Vanderbilt University admits its first African-American student.

1954 May 17   The unanimous decision on Brown v. Board of Education overturns previous rulings, beginning with Plessy v. Ferguson(58 years earlier, almost to the day), by ruling that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students deny equal educational opportunities to the black children – “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The decision bans segregation in public schools.

1954 Sep 30    The last remaining all-black units are disbanded by the U.S. Military.

1955 Mar 2     Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old African American is arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Local black leaders consider using this as the test case for a major protest movement, but reject the idea when Colvin becomes pregnant.

1955 Mar        Black basketball players K. C. Jones and Bill Russell lead the University of San Francisco to the NCCA championship.

1955 May 24   The Little Rock School Board votes unanimously to adopt Superintendent Virgil Blossom‘s plan of gradual integration, to start in September 1957 at the high school level and add the lower grades over the next six years. Mr. Blossom is named “Man of the Year” by the Arkansas Democrat for his work on desegregation.

1955 July        Rosa Parks receives a scholarship to attend a school desegregation workshop for community leaders. She spends several weeks at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, TN, later saying that the workshop was the first time in her life she had felt a sense of being in “an atmosphere of equality with members of the other race.”

Educator Septima Clark with Rosa Parks at Highlander Folk School, Monteagle, Tennessee, 1955. (Ida Berman photograph) Rosa Parks Papers, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (023.00.00)

1955 Aug 28   On a dare, 14-year-old Emmett Till, visiting relatives near Money, Mississippi, flirts with a white woman in a general store. Later he is beaten to death by a group of men, including the woman’s husband. Soon after the two men tried for murdering Till are acquitted by a local jury, they sell a story to Look magazine in which they confess to the murder.

1955 Sep 3      Emmett Till’s mother, schoolteacher Mamie Till Bradley, insists on keeping Emmett’s casket open during his funeral, even though his face is so swollen and disfigured by the beating that he is unrecognizable: “Let the people see what I have seen. I think everybody needs to know what happened to Emmett Till.”

1955 Nov 7     In Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company the Interstate Commerce Commission outlaws segregation on interstate buses.

1955 Dec 1   Rosa Parks is arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. The next day JoAnn Robinson and other community activists make and distribute flyers encouraging the African-American community to boycott city buses.

1955 Dec 5      On the first day of the bus boycott, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) is established. Members elect a young minister, the Reverend Martin Luther King, 26, as president.

1956 Jan 30     Dr. King’s home is bombed. Over the next two months, MIA attorneys file a federal suit challenging the constitutionality of segregated seating on public buses; a Grand Jury indicts 90 MIA members for breaking an anti-boycott law; Dr. King is convicted and fined $1,000. The MIA’s appeal draws nation-wide media attention.

1956 Mar        The Southern Manifesto, opposing racial integration in public places, is signed by 101 Senators and Congressmen, all from Southern states. Refusing to sign are Senators Albert Gore Sr. and Estes Kefauver from Tennessee and Lyndon B. Johnson from Texas. Other Congressmen who elect not to sign are Representatives William C. Cramer and Dante Fascell of Florida; Richard Chatham, Harold D. Cooley, Charles Dean, and Charles R. Jonas of North Carolina; Howard Baker Sr., Ross Bass, Joe Evins, J. Percy Priest, and B. Carroll Reece of Tennessee; and seventeen members of the Texas delegation, including Speaker Sam Rayburn. Their decision to oppose the Southern Manifesto will cost several of these individuals any chance of reelection.

1956 Jun 5       A Federal court rules bus segregation unconstitutional. Montgomery city officials quickly appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the bus boycott continues, and city officials concentrate on finding a legal way to prohibit the MIA’s carpool system, a home-grown network of alternative transportation provided by drivers both black and white.

Tennis champion Althea Gibson, 1956.

1956 Summer African-American tennis player Althea Gibson reaches the finals of the U.S. Open. She wins both singles and doubles in the French Open, becoming the first African American to win a Grand Slam tennis title.

1956 Aug 28   After 27 African-American students fail in their efforts to register in the all-white Little Rock city schools, the NAACP files a lawsuit on their behalf. On this date, Federal Judge John E. Miller dismisses the suit, stating that the Little Rock School Board has acted in “utmost good faith” in following its announced integration plan. Although the NAACP appeals, a higher court upholds Miller’s ruling. Meanwhile, during the same period of late summer, the city’s public buses are quietly desegregated.

1956 Fall         Although Vanderbilt University Law School has enrolled Native American, Asian, and Hispanic students for decades, new students Frederick T. Work and Melvin Porter are the first African-Americans admitted to a private law school in the South. Both will graduate in 1959.

1956 Nov 13   In Browder v. Gayle, the Supreme Court upholds the lower court ruling finding Montgomery’s bus segregation unconstitutional. On December 20, U.S. marshals officially serve the Supreme Court order on Montgomery city officials.

African American residents of Montgomery, Alabama, walk to work during the bus boycott.

1956 Dec 21    The Montgomery bus boycott comes to a successful end. After 381 days and the combined efforts of 50,000 people, black residents of Montgomery are now free to choose any seat on city buses.

Adapted from a timeline created by Kathy B. Lauder for the TN State Library and Archives, 2013.

Civil Rights Timeline, 1624 – 2012

Part One: 1624-1947.

1624                The first slaves are brought to New York.

1688                Philadelphia Quakers organize the first protest against slavery.

1763 Jul 7       In early 1763 Indians lay siege to Fort Pitt, near Pittsburgh. The fort’s commander asks Col. Henry Bouquet, for help, stating also that a smallpox epidemic is raging inside the fort. Bouquet writes to British commander Sir Jeffrey Amherst, who responds on this date, suggesting, “Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians?” He reiterates the idea in a subsequent letter: “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.”

1830                Congress passes the Indian Removal Act, requiring Native Americans to move west of the Mississippi River.

1831                In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, the Supreme Court rules that Indian tribes are not sovereign nations, but also that tribes are entitled to their ancestral lands and cannot be forced to move from them.

1831-1838       The U.S. Army forces as many as 60,000 Native Americans from their homes, moving them to areas west of the Mississippi River designated as Indian Territory. A Choctaw chief called the removal a “trail of tears and death.” Among the five tribes on the Trail of Tears (Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Cherokee, along with thousands of black slaves), historians estimate that as many as one-fourth of those who set out died before reaching their destination. (maps)

The removal of the Cherokee nation by the U.S. Army, 1838. Painting, The Trail of Tears, by Robert Lindneux, 1942. (public domain)

1832                In Worcester v. Georgia, the Supreme Court rules that whites may not enter tribal lands without the permission of the tribe. White Georgians ignore the Court’s decision, and President Andrew Jackson refuses to enforce it.

1857 Mar 6     In Dred Scott v. Sanford the Supreme Court finds that slaves are property, that they are not and cannot become citizens, and thus that they have no rights of citizenship, such as the right to sue.

1861-1865       The American Civil War begins on April 12, 1861, with the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, is usually considered the end of the war. However, a few other Confederate commanders surrendered in the next few weeks, and the terms of amnesty and parole still needed to be negotiated. President Andrew Johnson officially proclaimed the war to be over on August 20, 1866.

1865 Dec 6      The 13th Amendment is ratified, making slavery illegal.

1866 Apr 9      Both Houses of Congress overturn President Johnson’s veto of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which prevents state governments from discriminating on the basis of race.

1866 May 1-3 A race riot in Memphis results in 48 deaths, 5 rapes, many injuries, and the destruction of 90 black homes, 12 schools, and 4 churches.

1868 Jul 28     The 14th Amendment is ratified. It characterizes citizenship as the entitlement of all people born or naturalized in the United States and increases federal power over the states to protect individual rights, while leaving the daily affairs of the states in their own hands.

1870 Feb 17    The 15th Amendment is ratified, guaranteeing that “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” will not be used to bar U.S. male citizens from voting. Tennessee will not ratify it until 1997.

1875 Mar        The Tennessee Legislature passes House Bill No. 527 authorizing racial discrimination in transportation, lodging, and places of entertainment. The Bill receives Senate approval before the end of the month and becomes law (Chapter 130 of the Tennessee Code) It is Tennessee’s first Jim Crow law.

1884 Nov 3     In Elk v. Wilkins the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the 14th Amendment (1868), granting citizenship to former slaves, does not apply to Native Americans.

1887-1888       Elected to the 45th Tennessee General Assembly are Monroe W. Gooden of Fayette County, Styles L. Hutchins of Hamilton, and Samuel A. McElwee of Haywood. After their term ends in January 1889, no more African Americans are elected to the Tennessee legislature until A. W. Willis, Shelby County, takes his seat in the Tennessee House in January 1965, 76 years later!

1890 Nov 1     The Mississippi Plan becomes law. It uses literacy and “understanding” tests to disenfranchise minority voters. Other Southern states soon adopt similar practices to prevent blacks from exercising their right to vote: violence, voter fraud, gerrymandering, poll taxes, literacy tests, white primaries, grandfather clauses, etc.

1896 May 18   In Plessy v. Ferguson the Supreme Court rules that state laws requiring separate-but-equal accommodations for blacks and whites are reasonable and do not imply the inferiority of either race. The 7-1 decision (Justice John Marshall Harlan dissents) will serve as legal justification for segregation for 58 years, until it is finally overturned by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

1902 Dec 1      In Cherokee Nation v. Hitchcock (Ethan Allen Hitchcock was U.S. Secretary of the Interior at the time.), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the United States has the power to overrule Cherokee laws.

1903 Jan 5       In Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, a case involving land allotment on Kiowa land, the Supreme Court established the right of Congress to modify or terminate treaties without Native American consent. The Court declared the Indians to be “an ignorant and dependent race” that must be governed by the “Christian people” of the United States.

1906 Dec 24    In March Noah Parden and Styles Hutchins, two African-American lawyers from Chattanooga, convince Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan to grant an appeal to Ed Johnson, a black man wrongly convicted of rape. Meanwhile, a mob drags Johnson from the jail and lynches him. The Court, its authority challenged, finds the defendants (the sheriff, deputies, and members of the mob) guilty of contempt of court in United States v. Shipp. Their own lives now in grave danger, Parden and Hutchins flee the state forever.

1909 Feb 12    The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is founded in New York by a group of 60 men and women, both black and white. Among its founders are W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Archibald Grimké, and Florence Kelley.

Ida B. Wells Barnett (1862–1931) journalist, educator, and early civil rights leader

1912 Jul 4       Hadley Park is dedicated in Nashville. Originally part of the John L. Hadley plantation (Hadley was a well-known supporter of freedmen’s activities after the Civil War), this is the first public park in the United States for African Americans. Located near Tennessee State University, the park continues to honor the community’s cultural heritage.

1920 Aug 18   The 19th Amendment is ratified, with Tennessee, in a razor-thin vote, becoming the 36th state needed for ratification. Women, both black and white, can now legally vote.

1924 Jun 2       President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, granting citizenship to Native Americans born within the U.S., along with the right to vote in national elections. At this time most were still denied voting rights by state or local laws, despite the fact that they had already fought in three wars for the U.S. (Canada did not grant citizenship to Indians until 1960.)

1932 Nov 1     The Highlander Folk School opens near Monteagle, Tennessee. It supports the labor and Civil Rights movement with classes in labor education, literacy training, leadership development, non-violent methods, and voter education.

1934  Jun 18      The Indian Reorganization Act (also called the Wheeler-Howard Act) returns to Native Americans the right to reestablish tribal governments on their own reservations, write their own constitutions, and manage their own lands and resources, while also providing funds for education and development of their own businesses. The Johnson-O’Malley Act authorized contracts with states to administer educational, medical, and welfare programs on Indian reservations. It was not until 1974 that Johnson-O’Malley would be amended to encourage Indian administration of these programs.

1939 Apr 9      African-American contralto Marian Anderson performs at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday before a crowd of 75,000 people and a radio audience of millions. After Anderson was denied permission to perform in the D.A.R. Auditorium, Eleanor Roosevelt herself arranged the Lincoln Memorial concert.

Marian Anderson (in dark coat near the piano) sings from the Lincoln Memorial.

1940 Feb 29    Hattie McDaniel wins the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. She is the first African American, male or female, to win an Academy Award.

1940 Apr 7      Booker T. Washington becomes the first African American depicted on a postage stamp.

1940 Oct         Benjamin O. Davis Sr. is promoted to Brigadier General. He is the first black soldier to hold the rank of general. (See also May 16, 1960.)

1942 Apr         The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) is established in Chicago by James L. Farmer Jr., George Houser, and Bernice Fisher. Having evolved from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the group espouses the principles of pacifism and believes that non-violent civil disobedience is the appropriate method by which to challenge racial segregation in the United States.

1943                Rosa PARKS joins the NAACP, having served as youth advisor for the Montgomery Chapter since the mid-1930s. She works with the state president to mobilize a voter registration drive in Montgomery. Later that same year she is thrown off a city bus, coincidentally by the same driver who will have her arrested in 1956.

1944                Representatives from various tribal groups organized the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) to monitor federal policies. The organization today consists of more than 250 member tribes who work together to secure the rights and benefits to which they are entitles, to maintain rights granted by treaties, and to promote the common welfare of American and Alaskan natives.

1945 Oct 23    Baseball executive Branch Rickey announces that he has signed Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor-league affiliate Montreal Royals. Robinson will make his debut with the Royals in Daytona Beach on March 17, 1946.

1946                Zilphia Horton, music director at the Highlander Folk School, adapts the lyrics from a gospel hymn by the Rev. Charles Tindley (1851-1933) and creates the song “We Shall Overcome,” which will become the anthem of the Civil Rights movement.

1946                African-American football players Kenny Washington and Woody Strode are signed by the Los Angeles Rams, and Marion Motley and Bill Willis join the Cleveland Browns.

1946 Dec 5      President Truman establishes a Committee on Civil Rights, whose task is to study violence against African Americans in the country.

Adapted from a timeline created by Kathy B. Lauder for the TN State Library and Archives, 2013.

School Desegregation in Nashville

by James Summerville.

The 1896 Supreme Court, in Plessy v. Ferguson, upheld the constitutionality of social segregation, ruling that state laws which required the separation of the races did not imply the inferiority of either. Yet separate was not equal in Tennessee. A 1930 study of Nashville schools called attention to dilapidated buildings, unsanitary outhouses, and inadequate lighting. Twenty years later, some black students still had to walk half a mile for a drink of water.

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court reversed Plessy, which had been used by many states to justify public segregation. Brown v. Board of Education held that “separate educational facilities” were “inherently unequal” because segregation denied black students equal protection under the law, a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. A year later, the high court issued its implementation order, directing district federal courts to bring about compliance with the Brown decision. This was to be accomplished “with all deliberate speed,” an oxymoron which suggested that lower courts could show flexibility.

Nashville’s Board of Education appointed a committee to consider its options. Matters would have lingered in committee forever except for the lawsuit filed by Alfred Z. Kelley, an East Nashville barber. Kelley could not see why his son Robert had to commute across town to Pearl High School when the family lived within walking distance of East High School. The simple answer was that East was all white, and the Kelleys were black.

Lawyer Z. Alexander Looby and his partner Avon Williams Jr. carried Kelley v. Board of Education into federal district court. In time, Judge William E. Miller found for the plaintiff and directed the school board to prepare a plan for desegregation and submit it to the court by January 1957.

Z. A. Looby’s grave in Greenwood Cemetery

The educators stressed “deliberate” rather than “speed” and proposed that one grade per year be integrated, beginning with the first grade that next fall. At the same time, their plan allowed parents of either race to transfer a child out of a school where the other race predominated. In their final act, the board redrew the bounds of school zones so that only about 115 black first-graders, out of 1,500 eligible, could enter all-white schools come September.

Despite its novel evasions, the school board had acceded to the Brown decision. Diehards were left with unpalatable choices: resistance in public protests or keeping their children out of school.

Some black parents, worried about segregationists’ threats, took advantage of the school board’s transfer privilege. In the end, the burden of bringing down Jim Crow in public education in Nashville fell on 19 boys and girls. Twelve of them and their parents arrived at six elementary schools on the morning of September 9, 1957. So did knots of jeering white adults and teenagers. Police escorted the youngsters safely inside, but the day passed uneasily.

A few minutes after midnight, a bomb demolished a wing of East Nashville’s Hattie Cotton School. The police cracked down on persons carrying weapons, and jailed an agitator, John Kaspar, who had come to town to promote resistance to school desegregation.

Photo of schoolchildren from NHN collection

The handful of black youngsters who brought down the “walls of Jericho” adapted well, as did their white peers. Ironically, militants like Kaspar led the city to declare itself a peaceful, law-abiding community. Although support for the idea of racial equality was equivocal, the issue was now public order, for which there was universal support. The number of black students in formerly all-white schools grew from a few in 1957 to more than 700 by 1963. This was hardly a social revolution, but it did preface the gradual acceptance by Nashville parents, black and white, that the old days of separate and unequal schools were finished.

Civil Rights and the Nashville Room

by Sue Loper.

Four decades ago, during a time of sweeping social change throughout our nation, a determined group of Nashville students began a nonviolent revolution in this city that changed history. On February 13, 1960, after months of workshops centered on the methods of nonviolent protest, a group of African-American students from local universities sat down at a lunch counter and refused to move until they were served.

This was the start of the sit-in movement in Nashville, inaugurating what Martin Luther King, Jr., deemed the best-organized movement in the South. It was not an easy process: response to the group’s activities was sometimes violent. Nevertheless, the movement grew, as individuals and groups raised bail money or represented the students in court. One of those advocates was lawyer Z. Alexander Looby. In retaliation for Looby’s support of the protestors, his home was bombed on April 19, 1960. Later that day the students gathered for a spontaneous march to the courthouse to confront Nashville’s mayor. Diane Nash, spokesperson for the group, asked Mayor Ben West whether he thought it morally right for a restaurant to deny an individual a meal because of the color of his skin. Mayor West agreed the practice was wrong.

That moment sparked important changes in the city — within three weeks, Nashville lunch counters began serving black customers — but it was not the end of the student movement. Many went on to join the Freedom Riders and to work faithfully in voter registration efforts all over the South.

Years later David Halberstam described the experiences of those students in his book The Children. Nashvillian Bill King was so moved by the author’s description of the fortitude, persistence, and faith of the young protestors, he believed the events in Nashville and the work of “the children” should be memorialized.

In 2001 Mr. King and his wife Robin, friends of the Nashville Public Library, set up an endowment enabling the library to create a civil rights collection focusing on the Nashville sit-in movement. The collection includes print materials, an oral history project, an audio-visual library, microfilm research materials, and a collection of dissertations.

A library space was redesigned to intensify the focus of the collection. The new area opened on December 6, 2003, and is now a mainstay of the Nashville Public Library Special Collections Division: The Nashville Room. The setting includes a symbolic lunch counter and stools: glass “placemats” on the countertop list the ten rules sit-in participants were required to follow, and a timeline of national, state, and local civil rights events adorns the backsplash of the counter. Large photographs around the room depict highlights of the movement. A media room and a classroom/lecture space offer screens and touchpads for individual and group viewing. On a glass wall are the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I come to Nashville not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community.” Over the doorway is a quote by John Lewis, one of the 1961 students, later to become a U. S. Representative from Georgia: “If not us, then who; if not now, then when?”

At the dedication of the room, February 14-15, 2004, John Lewis, moved to tears by seeing his quotation over the doorway, stood in the civil rights room as the leader of the “Faith and Politics Tour,” which travels annually, with invited U.S. legislators, to significant civil rights locations. Lewis’s co-chair for this trip was Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The library’s Saturday civil rights workshops drew 800 people; 1300 came to hear the panel speak on Sunday. This powerful discussion, moderated by John Seigenthaler, featured Reverend C. T. Vivian, Reverend James Lawson, Diane Nash, Congressman John Lewis (Georgia), Reverend James Bevel, and Reverend Bernard Lafayette, speaking to the overflow crowd. Other program participants included Nashville Library Director Donna Nicely, Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell and Vice-Mayor Howard Gentry, U.S. Congressman Jim Cooper and Senator Bill Frist, and Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen. The program concluded with the singing of “We Shall Overcome,” led by Guy and Candie Carawan, folk singers whose songs have long inspired the civil rights movement. No one wanted the program to end: the library, scheduled to close at 5:00, remained open until after 7:00.

The program and reception were funded in part by the First Baptist Church Capitol Hill, a gathering place for sixties protestors and a training site for nonviolent protest activity. Other supporters included The First Amendment Center and The William Winter Center for Racial Justice, with primary support for the event coming from Robin and Bill King.

Additional contributions included a photographic exhibit of the civil rights movement by Harold Lowe; a film provided by Nashville Public Television, from their production entitled Nashville Memories; and a film of the event made by Metro Channel 3, which continues to make it available. Nashville Public Television filmed segments of the program for their popular series, Tennessee Crossroads.

The heroes of the Civil Rights movement lead the singing of “We Shall Overcome” at a Nashville Public Library ceremony, February 2004 (image above from PowerPoint presentation, “Resources in African American History and Civil Rights,” created by Kathy B. Lauder; original photograph by Gary Layda)

Today the civil rights room is an active place. Cumberland Valley Girl Scouts use its resources as they work on civil rights badges. Schools, churches, and civic groups come for tours; colleges and universities use the Lowe Photograph Collection. Staff members are working with Fisk University to prepare a traveling exhibit about the women of the civil rights movement. The Civil Rights Oral History Collection continues to grow as the words of participants are captured for future generations. Recently a correspondent from the Azerbaijani newspaper Baku Sun asked to copy the photograph of the silent march to the courthouse. The photograph will accompany the Sun’s interview with USAID Country Coordinator William McKinney, who was a participant in the Nashville sit-ins. The seeds planted by Nashville’s nonviolent revolution continue to produce fruit.