Diane Nash, Civil Rights Leader
Diane Nash on first encountering the Jim Crow South, de-segregating lunch counters, and courageous leadership.
Civil Rights Leader
Diane Nash on first encountering the Jim Crow South, desegregating lunch counters, and courageous leadership.
DIANE NASH: A lot of people say, oh, you're so brave and think I wasn't afraid, and that is not true. I was really, really, afraid.
I grew up on the south side of Chicago. I went to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. That was the first time that I personally had encountered signs that said white and colored on water fountains and restrooms. It was possible for blacks to buy food in a restaurant on a carry-out basis, but you couldn't sit in the restaurant and eat it. I found that humiliating.
I did not want to be chairperson. I was afraid to be chairperson, and I remember thinking, we are facing white racist businessmen and politicians, and who are we? A group of students, 18, 19, 20 years old.
Our first sit-in was February 13. We targeted six lunch counters. People often have the impression that a group of black students would say, hey, let's have a sit-in, but there was a great deal of work and planning that went into it.
One of the things that we anticipated was that white people, segregationists, would say they didn't want to sit next to dirty, smelly Negroes in restaurants. So we developed a dress code. The young men wore suits and ties, and the women wore dresses. I got confidence in my ability to work effectively in the movement.
We had prepared for that in the workshops. Everybody who went had pledged to be nonviolent. When they announced that we were under arrest, everyone got up and walked willingly to the patrol wagon. And when the police turned around, a whole new set of demonstrators had taken seats at the lunch counter.
That very day, we organized a march to City Hall. Several thousand people marched. It was a silent march. We met the mayor.
I asked the mayor, Mayor West, do you feel that it's wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of his race or color?
BEN WEST: I could not agree that it was morally right for someone to refuse them service, and I had to answer it just exactly that way.
DIANE NASH: That was a turning point. The following day, "The Nashville Tennessean" ran a headline and it said, "Integrate Counters-- Mayor."
The movement had a way of reaching inside you and bringing out things that even you didn't know were there. You didn't have to be a man to be courageous.