Community Arts partnerships highlights Nashville’s Freedom Riders and the 19th Amendment

(l-r): Poet Melissa Smith, Freedom Rider Dr. Allen Cason Jr., Freedom Rider Dr. Etta Marie Rae Simpson, Versify’s Joshua Morre, Project Coordinator Teree Campbelle-McCormick and Artistic Director Margaret Campbelle-Holman. (photo by Joshua Randle / Dugard Communications)

A unique community partnership is offering several great free programs to highlight civil rights activists and the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment this month. Featured partners include Fisk University, Vanderbilt University, Choral Arts Link, Intersection, the Nashville Symphony, the Civil Rights Room at Nashville Public Library, the podcast Versify, and Douglas Shadle, a Florence Price historian.

These very special events will be offered this month, as follows (1) “When I Crossed That Line to Freedom” on Saturday, February 8, 2020, 3:00 PM, Nashville Public Library, 615 Church Street. (2) “Ride Alongs With the Freedom Riders” on Tuesday, February 11 at the Nashville Public Library Main Location and Thursday, February 13 at First Baptist Church Capitol Hill – a site where nonviolent training was held. (3) “Upon These Shoulders: From the Back of the Bus” on Saturday, February 15, 2020, 7:00 PM, Fisk Memorial Chapel, Philips Street. And (4) “Journey” on Thursday, February 27, 2020, 7:00 PM, Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University, 2400 Blakemore Avenue.

Intersection will explore the connections between the 19th Amendment and the Civil Rights Movement through the music and story of Florence Price and excerpts from Nkeiru Okoye’s Opera “Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom.” Florence Price was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer and Harriet Tubman became an activist for women’s suffrage in her later years.

Nashville is invited to two conversations with immersive audience participation, the Ride Alongs With the Freedom Riders events are a cross-generational discussion of what worked then for the Freedom Riders, with a reality that times are not the same, yet the work for progress remains. Each conversation will feature Freedom Riders and a local civil rights activist sharing their experiences. Freedom Riders will lead the audience in the training they received to prepare for the freedom rides.

“From the Back of the Bus” is the culmination of someone wondering how the Freedom Riders devised a strategy for a successful civil rights movement. The program will honor the Freedom Riders still living in Nashville for they are the shoulders upon which we stand today. Dr. Ernest “Rip” Patton, Dr. Allen Cason Jr., Dr. Etta Rae Simpson, Dr. Fredrick Leonard, Dr. Jean Smith, Joy Leonard and Patricia Armstrong are among those who participated in the Freedom Rides. Choral Arts Link’s MET Singers and Intersection, led by Kelly Corcoran, will share the Freedom Riders’ stories and experiences through music and spoken word. The development of the community engagement events, narration and scripted portions of the performance will be curated by the project, “Freedom Riders: Strategy of a Movement” led by Teree Campbelle McCormick, project coordinator and Jon Royal, artistic director.

The final event is simply titled “Journey” and is a performance and discussion with Dr. Alisha Jones of Indiana University and Dr. Douglas Shadle of Vanderbilt University celebrating the voices of Black women composers Nkeiru Okoye and Florence Price.