Sit-ins: Nashville, Tenn.


The Nashville sit-in movement is widely regarded as one of the most successful and sustained student-directed sit-in campaigns of the Civil Rights movement. Contributing to its success was the leadership and organization provided by noted pacifist, James M. Lawson. During the late winter months of 1959, Lawson and the Nashville Student Movement, an organization comprised of students from the city's four African American colleges, made plans to launch a large-scale sit-in campaign targeting segregated restaurants and department stores in the city's downtown commercial district. Lawson prepared participants for the campaign by offering workshops where he instructed students on the importance of discipline and self-control through simulated sit-ins. Upon receiving word of the sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Nashville Student Movement launched their planned campaign into action. Local police officers responded to the staged sit-ins by arresting participating demonstrators. Despite the arrests, students continued to carry out the sit-ins by deploying multiple waves of demonstrators to occupy the lunch counters. The sit-in demonstrations continued until April 19 when a bomb exploded in the home of Z. Alexander Looby, a prominent African American attorney who served as one of the primary lawyers for students arrested during the sit-ins. The incident prompted thousands of demonstrators to stage a march on City Hall where Nashville Mayor, Ben West, met the marchers on the building's front steps to address their grievances. When publicly asked if he supported discrimination based on race, West voiced his opposition to segregation. Anxious to move the city forward and restore downtown commerce, city officials and local businesses agreed to desegregate Nashville's public facilities on May 10, 1960.

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