December 2013 Bar Bulletin
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December 2013 Bar Bulletin

Diane Nash: MLK Luncheon Speaker a 'Fearless' Warrior of the Civil Rights Movement

By Karen Murray


Civil rights activist Diane Judith Nash will share her personal journey through the American Civil Rights Movement as the guest speaker at KCBA's annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Luncheon on Friday, January 17.

Nash, a Chicago native and the only child of Leon Nash and Dorothy Bolton, was raised in a middle-class environment where she was provided with a sound platform that enabled her to thrive. After attending private schools, Nash attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., and then transferred to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she graduated with a major in English.

It was in Nashville that she had her first experience with Jim Crow laws and witnessed the horrendous effects these laws had upon the lives of black people. It was here that her lifelong journey as a civil rights activist began.

Growing up in the Midwest and having parents who sheltered her from the many harsh realities of the world, Nash and her family quietly wound their way through the unspoken and accepted discriminatory practices of the time. Nash's first introduction to these practices was not being able to use public restrooms or drink from public fountains unless there was a "For Colored Only" sign.

As Nash watched her classmates sitting outside of restaurants eating the lunches they had just purchased because people of color were not allowed to eat inside with white people, she realized that segregation was not something she would accept, and she dedicated herself to ensuring that no human being would feel inferior based on racist dogma or the sting of overt, narrow-minded bigotry.

After personally experiencing the indignities of discrimination, Nash sought ways to challenge segregation. She began attending nonviolent civil disobedience workshops led by the Rev. James Lawson who, like Dr. King, had studied Mahatma Gandhi's teachings of nonviolent direct action and passive resistance.

Nash was at first skeptical of the efficacy of nonviolence as a tool against violence, as she had witnessed the pain inflicted upon those who peacefully challenged discriminatory practices and Jim Crow laws. But with each successful nonviolent protest, she became more and more a devoted follower of nonviolent doctrine. With her communication skills, incredible composure and undeniable physical beauty, Nash soon emerged as a key leader in the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1960, at the young age of 22, she became the leader of the Nashville sit-ins, which lasted from February to May. During this time, Nash often found herself and her fellow activists incarcerated or in harm's way. No one was exempt from the physical violence or the hateful rhetoric that confronted the activists, whose strong convictions would not allow them to be deterred even if it meant certain death.

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