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Public Statements

Honoring Nashville's Civil Rights Leaders

Location: Washington, DC

HONORING NASHVILLE'S CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS -- (Extensions of Remarks - February 12, 2004)


Mr. COOPER. Mr. Speaker, in honor of Black History Month, I am pleased to speak today in recognition of Nashville's distinguished role in the history of the Civil Rights movement.

Forty-four years ago this week, a group of young Nashville college students came together to organize the Nashville sit-ins, a nonviolent campaign to desegregate the city's lunch counters. From that moment in 1960, and from that campaign's extraordinary leaders, emerged a passion for justice and equality that helped to guide the civil rights movement.

Nashville was a principal training ground for some of the nation's most important leaders in the civil rights movement, many of whom were schooled in the techniques of nonviolent protest by the Rev. James Lawson. Rev. Lawson was the second African-American admitted to Vanderbilt University's Divinity School, and his famed workshops on nonviolent resistance later earned him a reputation as "the teacher of the civil rights movement."

Lawson's students came to include such prominent figures as Diane Nash, Dr. James Bevel, Dr. Bernard Lafayette, and Rev. C.T. Vivian, as well as my distinguished colleague, Congressman John Lewis of Georgia. As students and young activists, they formed the organizational core of Nashville's civil rights movement, which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. later described as "the best organized and most disciplined in the Southland."

Nashville's lunch-counter protests began on Feb. 13, 1960. Three months later, after a dramatic confrontation with then-Mayor Ben West, the students earned their first major victory when six Nashville lunch counters began serving African-Americans. The Nashville protests came to serve as models for later protests throughout the South, and its leaders, Ms. Nash, Dr. Bevel, Dr. Lafayette, Rev. Vivian and Mr. Lewis, went on to make pivotal contributions to the success of the civil rights movement, including the Freedom Rides of 1961 and the historic protests in Selma, Alabama.

This weekend, a number of the original leaders of Nashville's movement will be reuniting both to commemorate the anniversary of those first organized sit-ins and to honor the opening of the new Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library. This library, located at 615 Church Street in Nashville, now stands in place of several downtown restaurants that refused to serve African Americans before the historic protests.

Dr. King best summed up the legacy of the Nashville movement when he came to visit shortly after the protests succeeded in desegregating Nashville's lunch counters. He said, "I came to Nashville not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community."

It is with great honor and pride that I pay tribute today to the men and women of Nashville whose leadership and courage in the fight for racial justice still serve as inspiration to us today.

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