Nov 4, 2021 - News

Honoring civil rights icon Diane Nash

A portrait photo of Civil Rights icon Diane Nash

Diane Nash. Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

New city legislation seeks to rename the plaza outside the Metro Courthouse to honor Diane Nash, the civil rights leader who made history there 61 years ago.

Why it matters: Nashville was a wellspring of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Luminaries trained here before fanning out across the nation to lead protests against racism.

  • Until recently, the city hasn't taken high-profile actions to memorialize its role in the era.

Between the lines: Council member Nancy VanReece filed the bill Wednesday after a months-long effort to rename Public Square Park for Nash faltered.

  • VanReece asked the Parks Naming Committee to suspend a rule against naming parks after living people. They rejected the request this week.
  • The new legislation, which VanReece shared with Axios, would instead rename the landing in front of the building Diane Nash Plaza. That includes the steps and large fountains around the park, which are overseen by the city's General Services Department.
  • Council members Sharon Hurt, Bob Mendes and Delishia Porterfield are co-sponsoring the new legislation.

Flashback: Nash led a march of thousands of activists to the steps of the Metro Courthouse in April 1960, where she pressed then-Mayor Ben West to call for the desegregation of downtown lunch counters.

  • She prevailed, and West endorsed the cause.
  • Downtown lunch counters agreed to desegregate the next month, a pivotal early victory for the civil rights movement in the Jim Crow South.
  • Nash went on to become a Freedom Rider and central figure in the movement.

Why now: As more civil rights luminaries involved in the Nashville sit-ins die, local leaders have taken more intentional and urgent steps to honor them.

The big picture: Tennessee State University professor and historian Learotha Williams tells Axios this kind of public recognition of Nash's impact is "long overdue."

  • "I applaud the efforts of everybody involved to make this happen," Williams says. "It's just a start, because we have more folks out there that warrant our study and our public praise."

What's next: VanReece's legislation requires multiple rounds of council review before it can be approved. A final vote is more than a month away.


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