Metro Historical Commission honors school desegregation leader A.Z. Kelley with historical marker

The unveiling of the A.Z. Kelley historical marker.

A.Z. Kelley’s family celebrated with city and state dignitaries and with students who attend the elementary school named for their patriarch during the unveiling of a historical marker honoring his effort in the cause to desegregate Nashville’s schools.

“Mr. Kelley’s courage had a lasting effect on Nashville,” said Metro Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Adrienne Battle.

Among those who also spoke were Nashville Mayor John Cooper; former Metro Councilman Fabian Bedne; Metro Historical Commission staff member Caroline Eller; A.Z. Kelley Principal Heather Bethurum and Mr. Kelley’s daughter, Canzada Hawkins.

Mrs. Hawkins called her father a great man who loved his family and his community. Several members of Mr. Kelley’s family also were in attendance.

Mr. Kelley was a barber and civil rights activist who was the lead plaintiff in a historic federal class-action lawsuit (Kelley vs. Board of Education) filed on September 23, 1955, on behalf of his son Robert Kelley. Robert was refused admittance into then all-White East High School, and 20 other African American students were refused admission to other Nashville city schools.

The case was fought, and won, by his legal team, which included local attorneys Z. Alexander Looby and Avon Williams, before being joined by then-national director of the NAACP and first African American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

On the wall in the school’s gymnasium, are some of the words to the school song, which the young students sang:

“A.Z. Kelley was a man who had to take a stand,

Believing that all children were the same,

To school, they all should go together as they grow,

Becoming future leaders of the land,

Now we’re here at A.Z. Kelley Elementary School,

Keeping the dream of equality alive at the green and blue.”