The invited panelists included Flo Ewing, PDS/USN parent and grandparent; former USN Trustee King Hollands, civil rights leader and president of the Board of Organized Neighbors of Edgehill; and Heber Rogers, professor Emeritus of USN, whose tenure included the desegregation era. The discussion was moderated by Vince Durnan, director/headmaster of USN.
Two of the panelists gave first-hand accounts of being denied equal access to sit and be served in restaurants, or to use public restrooms or water fountains that were not designated for ‘colored’ use, and having to enter movie theatres downtown Nashville by going through the alley, in the back door and up into the balcony in the 1950s and 1960s.
Hollands spoke of growing up in the Edgehill community adjacent to USN, and described how it has transitioned from an all-White community to an almost all-Black community, which it remained until its recent gentrification. He discussed his high school experiences at the then all-male Father Ryan High School, which led the city in becoming desegregated in 1954. He talked about how the Black students at that time attended classes, but were not allowed to participate in other extra-curricular school activities and sports.
Ewing candidly described her experiences, having attended a White northeastern prep school, coming from her home in segregated Alabama, and subsequently coming to Fisk as a young college student in the middle of the student-led Nashville sit-in movement, unprepared for the rigors of segregation but prepared to challenge that system.
Both Ewing and Hollands were active in the Nashville civil rights movement of the 1960s. They described their experiences and training in non-violent protest and organization of the movement’s local demonstrations and sit-ins in Nashville, as well as their contributions to the Freedom Rides.
Heber Rogers began teaching at PDS in 1954. He chronicled the desegregation journey of the then George Peabody College for Teachers, and at the Peabody Demonstration School. He described Peabody College’s willingness to enroll and accept persons of color with international citizenship, despite its unwillingness to accept Black native-born Americans at that time.
When Peabody College made the decision to admit Blacks in 1963, PDS followed suit in 1964. Desegregation at PDS was strategically planned and executed by its principal, Dr. W. Knox McCharen, a Mississippi native with an eye to the future. PDS initially admitted Black students up to the ninth grade, consistent with its principle of encourage admissions at strategic learning and social points.
USN continues to pioneer its efforts at what is now known as diversity, by ensuring that all of its students know of the school’s history and its contribution to the journey of Nashville’s educational community.