Civil Rights and Protests

Race Riots

What is the significance of the Nashville, Tennessee, sit-ins?

In 1958, following the formation of the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference (NCLC) by the Reverend Kelly Miller Smith Sr. and others, African-American leaders and students launched an attack on Jim Crow segregation. The NCLC utilized the concept of Christian nonviolence to stage the Nashville movement and combat racial segregation. The Reverend James Lawson, a devoted adherent of the Gandhi philosophy of direct nonviolent protest, trained local residents in the techniques of nonviolence. In November and December of 1959 NCLC leaders and college students staged unsuccessful “test sit-ins” in an attempt to desegregate the downtown lunch counters. Twelve days after the Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-ins, Nashville’s African-American students launched their first full-scale sit-ins, on February 13, 1960. Shortly before Easter, African Americans boycotted downtown stores, creating an estimated 20 percent loss in business revenues. On May 10, 1960, Nashville became the first major city to begin desegregating its public facilities. One of the best-organized and disciplined movements in the South, the Nashville sit-in movement served as a model for future demonstrations against other violations of African-American civil rights. Many of the student participants, including Diane Nash (Bevel) and John Lewis, later a prominent U.S. congressman, became leaders in the national struggle for civil rights.



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