By Dr. Chris McCusker
TLG Senior Consultant
Diane Nash is an acclaimed American civil rights activist. She was prominently involved with integrating lunch counters through sit-ins, the Freedom Riders, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Selma Right-to-vote movement and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She was also a part of a committee that promoted the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nash later became active in the peace movement and continues to advocate for fair housing in her hometown of Chicago, where she practices real estate.
The Freedom Riders tested the federal laws regarding the legality of segregated buses by traveling in mixed racial groups beginning in Washington, D.C. on a Greyhound bus attempting to travel throughout the south. They were met with such violence in Birmingham AL including the bus being set on fire and the riders being beaten, that the riders abandoned their plans to continue the rides and turned back.
Diane Nash, however, organized a group of ten students from Nashville, TN and continued the rides, eventually being stopped in Philadelphia, MS. where they were all arrested and jailed. But her efforts inspired students and others and forced the Kennedy administration to acknowledge civil rights in this country and raised national awareness.
The violence and arrests continued to garner national and international attention and drew hundreds of new Freedom Riders to the cause. The rides continued over the next several months, and in the fall of 1961, under pressure from the Kennedy administration, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued regulations prohibiting segregation in interstate transit terminals.
As a resident of Chicago, I am very proud of this Chicago native and her courage.