Tag Archives: civil disobedience

Women’s History Month 2014: Diane Nash

17 Mar

Diane_NashToday we honor and celebrate a woman whose signficant contributions to non-violent resistance,  desegregation, and social justice are significant but not widely appreciated. Diane Nash was born in Chicago in 1938. After high school, she attended Howard University for one year, then transferred to Fisk in Nashville, TN. Although she had experienced some racism, as most people of color do, her parents had managed to shelter her to the extent that they could. She was unprepared for the harsh, segregationist realities of the Jim Crow south.

Rather than return home or quietly accept her new circumstances, Nash began to look for ways to push back and create some much needed resistance. She attended a non-violent civil disobedience workshop offered by the Rev. James Lawson and took the lessons to heart. Quietly determined and eloquent, she became a leader in the local movement, helping organize sit-ins. She insisted on being arrested and refusing bail whenever present at an event that the police broke up. These actions bogged down the corrupt justice system and helped to spotlight the problems  as the nation began paying closer attention.

Nash worked with a young John Lewis and participated in solidarity protests for the Rock Hill Nine. She famously confronted Nashville’s mayor on the steps of city hall, simply asking, “Do you feel it is wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of their race or color?” The mayor hesitantly agreed that it was wrong, opening the door for lunch counter desegregation in Nashville–Brava, Ms. Nash.

In 1960, Nash helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) a major force for civil rights change in the South. She helped organize the Freedom Riders and was a driving force in continuing the rides after violent opposition by officials in Alabama. Reflecting on the importance of refusing to back down, Nash has observed,

It was clear to me that if we allowed the Freedom Ride to stop at that point, just after so much violence had been inflicted, the message would have been sent that all you have to do to stop a nonviolent campaign is inflict massive violence.

She was also involved in the planning of the Selma to Montgomery marches, participating in the Petrus Bridge march that famously injured John Lewis and spurred President Johnson to speak out against segregation.

After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Nash returned to Chicago. She worked in education and real estate, becoming a local force for fair housing advocacy.

No one person is responsible for the powerful growth and action of the civil rights movement. Historians and participants agree, however, that its ongoing success owes a great debt to this amazing woman. She risked long jail sentences in several states, put herself at personal risk, and encouraged the best forms of protest, helping ensure a cohesive, committed resistance to injustice.

Slowly Diane Nash’s role is becoming an important part of our nation’s narrative at this critical time in American History. She has received many accolades and awards, including the JFK Library and Foundation Distinguished American Award (2003),  LBJ Award for Leadership in Civil Rights  (2004), and the Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum (2008).

Thank you, Ms. Nash.  Our country is in your debt.


Celebrating Irene Morgan Kirkaldy

19 Apr

Before Rosa Parks there was Irene Morgan. Born in Baltimore in 1917, this bold woman helped strike an early blow against segregation. Her defiance of Jim Crow came in 1944, eleven years before the more famous act of civil disobedience by Parks. Kirkaldy, then 27, was recovering from a miscarriage and taking a long bus trip from the doctor’s office back to her home in Baltimore. She sat in the area designated for black passengers but was told by the driver to move further back to make way for a white couple. She refused and told the woman sitting next to her to do the same.

She was firm in her refusal, tearing up an arrest warrant when the sheriff was summoned and actively resisting her removal from the bus. In an interview with the Washington Post in 2000, she recounted,

I can’t see how anybody in the same circumstance could do otherwise,” Mrs. Kirkaldy told Washington Post reporter Carol Morello in 2000. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I’d paid for my seat. I was sitting where I was supposed to… [The sheriff’s deputy]  grabbed me. That’s when I kicked him in a very bad place. He hobbled off, and another one came on. He was trying to put his hands on me to get me off. I was going to bite him, but he was dirty, so I clawed him instead. I ripped his shirt. We were both pulling at each other. He said he’d use his nightstick. I said, ‘We’ll whip each other.’

After being dragged off the bus, she was thrown in jail. Mrs. Kirkaldy pleaded guilty to the charge of resisting arrest and was fined $100, but refused to plead guilty to violating Virginia’s segregation law. Her attorney argued that the law violated the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution. She was adamant in her appeals, taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

If something happens to you which is wrong, the best thing to do is have it corrected in the best way you can. The best thing for me to do was to go to the Supreme Court.

At this final appeal, she was successful, with a 6-to-1 decision declaring her innocence and striking down the segregation law. One of her attorneys at the final appeal was the wonderful Thurgood Marshall (another personal hero of mine), who went on to join the Court as its first African-American justice.

She said she didn’t mind the relatively little notice her achievements brought. At age 68 she received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University, and five years later she obtained a master’s degree in urban studies at Queens College. “If there’s a job to be done, you do it and get it over with and go on to the next thing,” she told the Washington Post. Feisty in the moment and quiet in her success, this pioneer for civil rights lived out most of her life in New York until her death in 2007.  I just wanted to celebrate Irene and hope many others will also fall in love with her.

Celebrating Black History Month, February 4

4 Feb

Sweet Honey in the Rock: A National Treasure

Today I would like to honor and celebrate a group of women that live their lives as activists and use their music to promote peace and civil disobedience when needed. I would like to honor and pay tribute to Sweet Honey in the Rock. This all woman African-American a cappella group started in 1973, by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, one of my own personal heros. While some of the players have changed the group still tours all over.  In their music, they address topics including motherhood, spirituality, freedom, homophobia, civil rights, domestic violence, and racism. Here are just a few of my favorites that I hope you will enjoy and hope you will discover the brilliant music of these powerful women. Of course, a favorite anthem of mine, and this lovely one on children and I really love this one as well.

Women’s History, February 4

4 Feb

Rosa Parks: American Hero

Happy Birthday, Rosa Parks.  Parks, The First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement, was arrested for not obeying bus driver, James Blake, when he ordered her to give up her seat for a white man.  She was 42 years old at that time–nice that we can become activists in our 40s.  This act of civil disobedience happened on December 1, 1955 and sparked the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott. At the time of her arrest, Parks was the secretary of her chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The bus boycott helped to end racial segregation in the south–the power of boycotting.  I only wish I could say it ended racism today in the United States, but we all know that is painfully not true.

Happy Birthday, Betty Friedan. Friedan, a leading figure in the “Second Wave” women’s movement, is best known for her groundbreaking book, The Feminine Mystique. While The Feminine Mystique was groundbreaking and helped the women’s movement, it did not address equality for non-white women, nor did it include lesbians.  Friedan later addresses these disparities in her book, The Fountain of Age and in a new introduction she included in subsequent publications of The Feminine Mystique. Friedan passed away on her birthday in 2006. Her voice is missed now especially when women’s rights are being attacked currently by our government.

Quotes of the day:

I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people. –Rosa Parks

The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own. There is no other way. –Betty Friedan

Enjoy this bit as well: Click Here.



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