Civil Rights at Nashville Public Library

Civil Rights Room at Nashville Public Library photo: Demarco Johnson

Civil Rights Room at Nashville Public Library
photo: Demarco Johnson

Black History month for the Nashville Public Library isn’t just a month of remembering our great African American heroes for what they have done. It’s all about reminiscing about what they did do to help form and shape Tennessee into what it is now.

Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” The Civil Rights Collection, located on the second floor in the west wing, displays artifacts, videos, and helpful research that shows the “change” that Gandhi talked about that happened in downtown Nashville in the 1960s. The circular table in the center of the room represents the lunch counters that were popular gathering places in downtown Nashville in the days before fast-food chains became commonplace. On the counter surface is a list of ‘10 rules of conduct’ carried by the protesters during the sit-in demonstrations. A timeline, also on the table, displays significant events both locally and nationally during the civil rights era.

“I came to Nashville not to bring inspiration,” Martin Luther King Jr. said from quote written on the huge glass wall behind the table, “but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community.”

Backing up that quote, there are large photographs circling the room of events that happened in downtown Nashville in the 1960s. How is this inspiration? It’s not about what happened in the pictures that matter; it’s about what would or could you have done to help change or recreate the events.

“If not us, then who?” John Lewis asked. “If not now, then when?”

This precisely states that if you don’t want to fight for your rights, then who will do it for you? If you plan on waiting for something that may or may not happen, then when do you plan to finally rise up and make a difference like these African American people in the 1960s?

Going back to the circular table, the lunch counter sit-ins are one example of attempting to get your rights. One of the ‘10 Rules of Conduct’ by John Lewis and Bernard Layfayette said: “Do not strike back nor curse if abused.” This shows courage, fearlessness, and the bravery of how far African Americans would go for their freedom, knowing the severe consequences. Even though “One man with courage is a majority,” like Thomas Jefferson said, you should take the time to remember all of the brave African American men and woman by going to the Nashville Public Library to check out more of the history. Video recordings of interviews are available at the library. If you read, there are many more books covering the Civil Rights era with an amazing view of the intersection of Church Street and Seventh Avenue North, where some of the events began, in front of where the library is today. Come celebrate Black History Month at Tennessee’s very own Nashville Public Library!