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This Day in Speech & Debate History! Civil Rights Leader, Diana Nash!

“Violence needs to be addressed. I think the Civil Rights Movement has demonstrated how to resolve human conflicts. I think it's crazy when two countries have problems with each other and one says 'Let's bomb them, kill them, go fight.' If we have a problem with another country I would like to see consideration instead of an automatic tendency to go to war. Let's hear their side, consider our side, and look at what is logical and reasonable. Let's look at what serves the best interests of the people and see if we can negotiate solutions, more sane solutions.” – Diana Nash

Today, May 15th, we recognize the birthday of one of the leading civil rights advocates, Diana Nash. Nash was a civil rights activist, leader of the student wing of the Civil Rights Movement, led one of the first successful civil rights campaigns to integrate lunch counters, the Freedom Riders, co-founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and co-initiating the Alabama Voting Rights Project and working on the Selma Voting Rights Movement

When she attended Fisk University in Nashville she first experienced the Jim Crow system. At the state fair she encountered for the first time, “Colored Women” restrooms. At this point she started becoming involved in student activism and the civil rights movement. She became the chairwoman of organizing the nonviolent protests at her university.

She participated in numerous sit ins at restaurants in Nashville and was imprisoned several times but refused to pay bail. In fact, she was arrested dozens of times for her activities and even incarcerated while pregnant. "We feel that if we pay these fines we would be contributing to and supporting the injustice and immoral practices that have been performed in the arrest and conviction of the defendants." When she directly asked the mayor of the city “Do you feel it is wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of their race or color,” the mayor admitted she was correct. Three weeks later restaurants were desegregated.

In 1960 she became one of the co-founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and also was very involved in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr. She eventually separated from both organizations. The SCLC was becoming very male and clergy dominated. The SNCC departed from their focus on nonviolence.

She also was one of the leaders of the Freedom Riders. She helped lead, organize, fundraise and recruit for numerous Freedom Rides. She and the Freedom Riders were subject to brutal assaults, threats, harassment and imprisonment. She was warned many times to stop the Freedom Rides but she refused and continued to Ride. In 1963 President John F. Kennedy appointed Nash to a national committee to promote civil rights legislation. Eventually his proposed bill was passed as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After the 1936 church bombing in Birmingham that killed four young girls, she went to Alabama to raise a nonviolent army with the goal of the vote for every black adult in Alabama. She helped to organize the Selma to Montgomery marches, a series of protests for voting rights in Alabama in early 1965. The marchers were attacked, clubbed, tear gassed, beaten – and it was televised nationwide. President Johnson soon after passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 1965, SCLC gave its highest award, the Rosa Parks Award, to Diane Nash and James Bevel for their leadership in initiating and organizing the Alabama Project and the Selma Voting Rights Movement.

Nash is featured in the award-winning documentary film series Eyes on the Prize (1987) and the 2000 series A Force More Powerful about the history of nonviolent conflict. She is also featured in the PBS American Experience documentary on the Freedom Riders, based on the history of the same name. Nash is also credited with her work in David Halberstam's book about the Nashville Student Movement, The Children, as well as Diane Nash: The Fire of the Civil Rights Movement. In addition, she has received the Distinguished American Award from the John F. Kennedy Library and Foundation (2003), the LBJ Award for Leadership in Civil Rights from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum (2004)