Tag Archives: Freedom Riders

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.

The Butler: The Personal is Political

23 Aug

OPRAH WINFREY and FOREST WHITAKER star in THE BUTLER My husband and I went to movie night on $5 Tuesdays here in Portland. We finally got to see the much acclaimed The Butler.  Of course, I would probably see anything with Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding, Jr, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, and Vanessa Redgrave.   This all-star cast did not let anyone down.  While all of them give fantastic performances, I have to say that Whitaker and Winfrey give nothing less than Academy Award winning performances.   Some may remember that Whitaker earned an Academy  Award for his stellar performance in the Last King of Scotland. However, sadly Winfrey was robbed of an academy award for her stellar performance as Sofia in one of my favorite movies of all time, The Color Purple. 

The Butler does a marvelous job of weaving threads of fiction and non-fiction to create a compelling story of one man’s awakening to the realization that the personal is political against a backdrop of our nations’ ugly history around race.  If only race relations could be relegated to the past, but they cannot be yet — we still have so far to go.   Everything we do and in every way we live our lives, we are making a political statement.

The movie does a phenomenal job capturing the series of presidents under which Cecil Gains (Forest Whitaker) serves.  While LBJ was not someone I would want to my house for dinner, he was a great president and one of his greatest legacies was the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which has now been gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Sadly, the movie also exposes the great flaws of the Reagans and how Reagan’s stand on apartheid put him on the wrong side of history.  Fonda does an amazing job of portraying Nancy Reagan.

I loved that the movie delved into the Freedom Riders and the need for the Black Panther movement.  However, I was sad that Bayard Rustin was not mentioned at all.  I am glad to see that both Rustin and Winfrey will be receiving awards later this year.

Winfrey is just as amazing in The Butler as she was in The Color Purple.  Her character, Gloria, is a complex alcoholic grappling with a husband working as a subversive — albeit he does not know his job is in and of itself subversive — and losing a son to the Vietnam War. (Another waste of human lives for a war that should never have been.)

Just to prove how much we need this movie, a theater in Kentucky has refused to screen The Butler.  So much for freedom of speech.  My esteem (while already quite low because of Rand Paul) just dropped even further.

We were glued to our seats during the entire movie and I so hope most people in the United States see this movie.  The Civil Rights Movement is not over–we still have a long way to go and we still so desperately need people like John Lewis.  Let me know what you think of the movie.

%d bloggers like this: