Black History: Special Delivery!!
A native of Chicago, IL, Diane Nash (1938-) was one of the pioneering forces behind the Civil Rights movement. Nash and many other women were champions of the movement. She became active in the movement in 1959 as a new student at Fisk University in Nashville, TN. While at Fisk she would encounter the harsh realities of segregation and prejudice that were previously unknown to her. In 1959 she attended a workshop focused on non-violent protesting. She would quickly become a respected leader of Nashville’s “sit in” movement. Her efforts were instrumental in organizing the first successful campaign to end segregation of lunch counters. This effort engaged hundreds of black and white college students as volunteers. She was also one of the founders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC would play a major role in the civil rights movement by engaging young college students in civil rights activism. These efforts were successful and in 1960, Nashville became first southern city to desegregate lunch counters.
She is perhaps, best known for her leadership in the “Freedom Rides”. The Freedom Rides was a campaign to desegregate interstate travel. The first “freedom ride” of the civil rights movement took place on May 4, 1961 when six whites and seven blacks traveled from Washington D.C. on public buses headed for the south. They wanted to test the Supreme Court’s ruling in Boynton v. Virginia (1960). This ruling declared segregation of interstate bus and rail stations to be unconstitutional. Southern states had largely ignored the ruling and the federal government did nothing to enforce the ruling at that time. The Freedom Rider’s wanted to test the enforcement of the ruling by traveling in mixed racial groups to the south. Their efforts encountered violent responses and brought national and international attention to the civil rights movement. Riders were often arrested, jailed, and beaten. The work of the freedom riders was very dangerous.
Nash worked diligently to garner support for Freedom Rides from the national movement as well as the federal government. In 1961, Nash was able to bring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Montgomery, AL in support of the Freedom Riders. It was also in 1961 that Nash dropped out of college to become a full time activist and organizer with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She would also marry James Bevel in 1961 and relocate to Jackson, Mississippi. In Mississippi she began organizing to address voting rights and school desegregation. She and her husband were arrested dozens of times in Mississippi and Alabama. Her efforts have been hailed as being instrumental to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 1965, she returned to Chicago, IL and became active in the Vietnam Peace Movement and continued to stay involved in political and social activism. In the 1980’s she became active in advocating for Women’s rights.