Freedom rider appalled by Nashville unrest, destruction of civil rights plaque

Posted at 5:14 PM, Jun 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-01 22:12:51-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Ernest “RIP” Patton will always take the opportunity to remind people about Nashville’s pivotal role in the civil rights movement. He hopes the ongoing fight for social justice and equality in the future will shed the same actions he witnessed during the unrest on Saturday night.

The Nashville native and civil rights activist took time on Monday to see the vandalism and damage to the Historic Metro Courthouse in person. Groups of people turned what was a peaceful rally against police brutality and racism earlier in the day in downtown to hours of violence.

Metro police said at least 30 businesses were damaged and nearly 30 people were arrested including Wesley Somers, the man accused of lighting a piece of the building on fire.

The walls filled with profanity was upsetting enough, but what rioters did to a plaque honoring the civil rights era made it more disappointing for Patton. Mayor John Cooper said some broke the plaque into pieces and used them to shatter the windows.

“I was appalled. It even hurts me to stand here and think about what these people, young and old, did here this past weekend,” Patton told NewsChannel 5. “It overshadows and to me, it says you don’t know the history of Nashville.”

Patton was a student who joined the movement and was even arrested as a Freedom Rider, and worked alongside iconic civil rights leader such as Representative John Lewis.

He also worked with Diane Nash, the trailblazer the plaque was dedicated to. She was instrumental in the sit ins demonstrations, formed a student movement and helped desegregate lunch counters.

Nash also led thousands of people in the historic silent march to the courthouse and confronted Mayor Ben West about equal treatment after the home of prominent civil rights attorney Z. Alexander Looby was bombed.

“We were having a silent march, you could not talk to the person next to you. We wanted Nashville to hear our footsteps,” Patton recalled.

The same demonstration was a stark difference to the unruly behavior during the riot on Saturday.

Patton knows the incident doesn’t represent the protest as a whole. Organizers have spoken out against the violence and vandalism that happened after the “I Will Breathe” rally. Thousands gathered at Legislative Plaza in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The investigation is ongoing into who all were involved in the vandalism and what roles they played, and if there were outside influences.

In a city where protests have historically been calm and peaceful, Patton believed Nashville will regain itself after the weekend.