Black History Month 2021: Dr. Diane Nash


Dr. Diane Nash is a force. I first learned about her from some friends who bake a cake in her honor every year. After learning more about this brilliant, fearless leader, I knew it was a shame I hadn’t heard of her, and wanted to make sure more people knew about her leadership and incredible contributions to the civil rights movement.


A Chicago native, Diane Nash came face to face with the brutality of segregation while a student at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. She was a founding member of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and a leader in the sit-in movement, ultimately integrating lunch counters throughout the South.


She later became a leader in the Nashville Student Movement Ride, continuing the momentum of previous Freedom Rides by recruiting riders and developing key strategic relationships with the government, press, and fellow activists, alike, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She ultimately became a full-time activist with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1961.


Arrested countless times for her activism, in 1962, after facing a two-year jail sentence for encouraging young people in nonviolent direct action, she chose to go to jail rather than accept a plea despite being six months pregnant. In her words, “This will be a black baby born in Mississippi, and thus wherever he is born he will be in prison… If I go to jail now it may help hasten that day when my child and all children will be free.”


President John F. Kennedy appointed her to a national committee that ultimately championed and helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King awarded Nash and her then-husband, also an activist, the Rosa Parks award for their commitment to the civil rights movement.


Dr. Nash, now 82, has continued to advocate for peace, women's and tenants rights in Chicago, where she was a long-time educator. Actor @tessamaethompson portrayed her in @ava’s 2014 film Selma.


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