Jul 5, 2022 - News

Diane Nash to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Diane Nash portrait.
Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

Nashville civil rights icon Diane Nash will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President Joe Biden announced July 1.

Why it matters: The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor. It's presented to people who "have made exemplary contributions" to the nation, according to a White House press release.

Flashback: Nash, who came to Nashville in 1959 to study at Fisk University, was a leader in the nonviolent protests that desegregated the city's lunch counters in 1960. She worked alongside luminaries like U.S. Rep. John Lewis and the Rev. James Lawson.

  • She was a Freedom Rider and founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, whose members overcame violent resistance in their push for an end to racist policies in the Jim Crow South.
  • When a crowd of thousands marched to the steps of the Metro Courthouse in April of 1960, it was Nash who pressed then-Mayor Ben West to embrace their efforts, which he did.

Martin Luther King Jr. called Nash the "driving spirit in the nonviolent assault on segregation at lunch counters."

The big picture: The steps where Nash confronted West now bear her name. The Metro Council voted last year to rename the plaza outside of the courthouse in her honor.

Zoom out: Other recipients of the Medal of Freedom this year include Simone Biles and Denzel Washington. Sen. John McCain and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs are getting the honor posthumously.

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