NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Metro Council has been looking at ways to honor civil rights activist Diane Nash, at the very spot where she made history in Nashville. But the effort has encountered unexpected controversy.
To be clear, there was never any debate whether or not Nash would deserve having her name enshrined in this space. The sticking point is the fact, she's still alive.
Nash made history at Nashville's Historic Courthouse and City Hall on April 19, 1960. That morning, civil rights attorney Z. Alexander Looby's home was bombed. An outraged Nash and other college students jumped into action. "They didn’t have Twitter, they didn’t have smartphones, this was just a good fashioned grassroots organization," said David Ewing, a Nashville historian.
Four-thousand African American college students marched, shoulder to shoulder, silently to city hall. Ernest "Rip" Patton Jr. was one of them. NewsChannel 5 interviewed Patton about it last year, shortly before his death. "You could not talk to the person next to you. We wanted Nashville to hear footsteps," he said.
When the crowd arrived, Nash said a few words to then-Nashville Mayor Ben West that would change our city forever. "[She] asked him the famous question — did he think that segregation at our city’s lunch counters was right? And Mayor West, looking at 4,000 students that day, answered Diane and said no. And that’s when segregation at the lunch counters started to end," said Ewing.
Nashville became the first major southern city to integrate lunch counters, a few weeks later.
Originally, Metro Council members wanted to name all of Public Square Park after her, but Metro Parks has a rule about only giving that honor to those who have died. "It’s important to honor people during their lives and have them take a bow," said Ewing.
But that restriction doesn't apply to designated areas. So now the landing where she made lasting change, may soon be called Diane Nash Plaza. "This honor for Diane Nash is long overdue," said Ewing.
Ewing loves the idea, because it's so much more rewarding to retrace steps, with the ones who left the mark. "I hope that we get to invite Diane Nash back to Nashville, on this very spot in 1960 where she made history and say thank you," he said.
But it isn't a done deal. Metro Council will have to consider the resolution at three different readings before it can pass the measure.