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Civil rights activist Diane Nash to speak

October 27, 2011—The University of Redlands is pleased to announce that the 2011 Cummings Peace Lecture will be presented by Diane Nash, civil rights activist and one of the original Freedom Riders. Her topic will be “The Nonviolent Movement of the 1960s: A Legacy For Today.” Ms. Nash will speak at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 8 in the Memorial Chapel on the University of Redlands main campus. This event is free and open to the public.

With Ms. Nash’s appearance on campus, The University of Redlands is choosing to mark the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders, civil rights activists who challenged segregation in the American South, frequently risking their lives to do so. The Civil Rights historian, David Halberstam, has said of Diane Nash: “…she was bright, focused, utterly fearless, with an unerring instinct for the correct tactical move at each increment of the crisis; as a leader, her instincts had been flawless, and she was the kind of person who pushed those around her to be at their best—that, or be gone from the movement.”

By 1961, Diane Nash had emerged as one of the most respected student leaders of the sit-in movement in Nashville, TN. Raised in middle-class Catholic family in Chicago, Nash attended Howard University before transferring to Nashville's Fisk University in the fall of 1959. Shocked by the extent of segregation she encountered in Tennessee, she was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in April 1960. In February 1961 she served jail time in solidarity with the "Rock Hill Nine" — nine students imprisoned after a lunch counter sit-in.

When the students learned of the bus burning in Anniston, AL and the riot in Birmingham, AL, Nash argued that it was their duty to continue.

"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," says Nash in the PBS documentary Freedom Riders.

Elected coordinator of the Nashville Student Movement Ride, Nash monitored the progress of the Ride from Nashville, Tennessee, recruiting new Riders, speaking to the press, and working to gain the support of national Movement leaders and the federal government.

Assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, John Seigenthaler, recalls a phone conversation with Nash where he tried to dissuade the Nashville Freedom Riders from going to Alabama, warning of the violence ahead. Nash replied that the Riders had signed their last wills and testaments prior to departure. In his interview for Freedom Riders, Seigenthaler recalls, "She in a very quiet but strong way gave me a lecture."

Nash played a key role in bringing Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Montgomery, AL on May 21 in support of the Riders. She herself was present for the violent siege of the First Baptist Church.

Later that same year, she married Freedom Rider James Bevel. In 1962, she was sentenced to two years in prison for teaching nonviolent tactics to children in Jackson, MS, although she was four months pregnant. She was later released on appeal. Nash played a major role in the Birmingham desegregation campaign of 1963 and the Selma Voting Rights Campaign of 1965, before returning to her native Chicago to work in education, real estate and fair housing advocacy.

She created the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) strategy for the Selma Right-to-Vote movement. In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. presented her with the SCLC’s highest award. In 2008, the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN, presented Ms. Nash with their 2008 National Freedom Award. This award is presented to individuals who have made significant contributions in civil rights and human rights. One of her mentors and teachers was The Rev. Dr. James Lawson, who received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Redlands in 2000. Ms. Nash received an honorary degree from Fisk University in 2009.

For more information regarding this event, please contact Leela MadhavaRau at leela_madhavarau@redlands.edu or 909-748-8297 or John Walsh at 909-748-8368.


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