Civil Rights leaders’ panel moderated by journalist John L. Seigenthaler
Rev. James Lawson, Diane Nash and Earnest ‘Rip’ Patton, who, as leaders in the renowned Nashville Movement of the 1960s courageously employed nonviolent resistance against discrimination that ultimately ended legal segregation in the U.S., are reuniting for a panel discussion to share their experiences and discuss the state of diversity in America today, during Waller’s ‘It’s Our Turn’ Martin Luther King, Jr. Day tribute.
John L. Seigenthaler, distinguished journalist, civil rights activist and founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, will moderate the discussion on January 17, 2013 at the DoubleTree hotel downtown at 11:30 am. The ‘It’s Our Turn’ event is part of Waller’s annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and one of the firm’s many diversity initiatives.
“The reunion of these Civil Rights leaders offers an unprecedented platform to hear first-hand accounts from American heroes whose bravery, determination and dignity in the face of prejudice will be forever imbedded in the national consciousness,” said John Tishler, chairman of Waller, Nashville’s oldest and largest law firm.
“The Nashville Movement was pivotal to the legal and social sea change that defined The Civil Rights Movement,” Tishler said. “Without the actions of Rev. Lawson, Diane Nash, Rip Patton and their contemporaries, segregation might have endured far longer and actions to end it might have been far more violent. It will also be an honor to learn, from these great leaders, how to foster stronger bonds among diverse people in our country.”
Rev. James Lawson joined the Civil Rights Movement as a freshman at Baldwin Wallace College in Ohio where he participated in the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and advocated for nonviolent resistance to racism. Shortly after enrolling in the Graduate School of Theology at Oberlin College in 1956, Lawson was introduced to Dr. Martin Luther King, who encouraged him to postpone his studies and take an active role in the Movement. Lawson moved to Nashville as a field secretary of FOR and the southern director of CORE, and trained students of Vanderbilt University, Fisk University, Tennessee State University and other area schools in nonviolent resistance. The Nashville Movement, as it came to be known, became the model nonviolent effort of the Civil Rights era. Among those Lawson mentored were Diane Nash, who became one of the Movement’s most visible leaders, and Rip Patton, who participated in the Freedom Rides. Lawson and his students helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in April of 1960, and organized and participated in Nashville’s lunch counter sit-ins in 1960, the Freedom Rides in 1961, the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement. Lawson continues to support equality and currently promotes immigration rights and a worker’s right to a living wage. He recently received the Community of Christ International Peace Award and was the 2010-11 Visiting Faculty member of California State University Northridge’s (CSUN) Civil Discourse and Social Change initiative.
Diane Nash, a Chicago native, began attending Rev. Lawson’s workshops in 1959 as a student at Fisk University, and quickly emerged as a leader in the burgeoning Nashville Movement. She was renowned for her calm and graceful courage and was the chairperson of the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins. In 1960, Nash led a silent march to the steps of the Nashville Courthouse, where she asked Mayor Ben West if he believed that it was wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of color. This confrontation motivated action and three weeks later Nashville became the first southern city to desegregate its lunch counters. Nash also coordinated the historic Freedom Ride from Birmingham to Montgomery to Jackson in May 1961. She was arrested and jailed many times yet she continued to fight for justice as director of the direct action arm of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1961 and as a member of the national committee promoting passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1963. Nash has received numerous awards for her heroic accomplishments including one of six awards at the March on Washington in 1963 presented to Negro Women Freedom Fighters; the ‘Distinguished American Award’ in March, 2003 from the John F. Kennedy Library; the 2008 National Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn. and the Living Legend Award from the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Ala. in 2009.
Rip Patton is a Nashville native who as a 21-year-old student at Tennessee State University (TSU) became involved in Rev. James Lawson’s workshops to end segregation. Patton was one of five students who drove to Montgomery, Ala. on May 23, 1961, to participate in the leg of the famous Freedom Ride that would travel from Montgomery to Jackson, Miss., and result in the incarceration of 27 Riders. Arrested at the Jackson bus station lunch counter, Patton eventually spent 40 days in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman State Prison Farm and was expelled from TSU. For the past five years, Patton has represented the Freedom Riders on an annual Civil Rights tour of the Deep South, and in 2008, he and the other students expelled from TSU for their participation in the Freedom Rides received honorary doctorates. Patton also received an honorary law degree in 2010 from Stetson University College of Law and continues his efforts today as a community leader.
John L. Seigenthaler is an award-winning journalist and nationally recognized defender of First Amendment rights. Hired as a reporter by The Tennessean in 1949, he became its editor in 1962 as well as its publisher in 1973. He also was the first editorial director for USA Today upon its founding in 1982, and served in all three capacities until retiring in 1991, when he founded the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. In 1960, Seigenthaler took a leave from The Tennessean to serve in the U.S. Justice Department as administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. He was the Kennedy administration’s chief negotiator to the governor of Alabama during the Freedom Rides, and while attempting to protect Freedom Riders in Montgomery, he was beaten by an angry mob and hospitalized.
Seigenthaler has remained committed to promoting racial justice ever since. He also is the senior advisory trustee of the Freedom Forum, chair of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Awards for the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights, chairman emeritus of the annual Profile in Courage Award selection committee of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, and a member of the federal Constitution Project on Liberty and Security.