Wednesday, February 10, 2010

50th Anniversary of the Nashville Sit-Ins

Today marks a significant anniversary for the Nashville community. Fifty years ago today, the lunch counter sit-ins began, protesting legalized segregation in many places in Nashville, including lunch-counters, water fountains, bathrooms, etc.

I wasn't alive during this time, and I'm white, so it may sound strange to say that this is a very meaningful anniversary for me personally. But these sit-ins played a major role in my own faith development.

First, one of my teachers in high school was a student at Fisk University during this time and participated in the sit-ins. He would tell his story to students, sparing no detail about the verbal and physical abuse he suffered at the hands of white people who feared sitting next to him at a lunch counter. I had read about the Civil Rights movement in text books, but hearing someone who was there tell his story, and seeing the scars on his arms from being dragged off by police, made social injustice more real and less theoretical to me at an early age.

Also, my seminary, Vanderbilt Divinity School, played a central role in the Nashville sit-ins. James Lawson, a divinity student at the time, was the organizer of the sit-ins, and the controversy his involvement in civil rights and subsequent expulsion created nearly shut down not only the Divinity School, but the entire university. The events of these years were so significant that there is a whole chapter devoted to them in the official history of the Divinity School

There is also an amazing book about the sit-ins by the late David Halberstam, called The Children. James Lawson and many others are brilliantly profiled by Halberstam, who was a reporter for The Tennessean at the time.

So I wish all those who have fought for equality these last fifty years a happy anniversary. Thank you for  making this world a better place for me and my children to live in, and for inspiring us to do our part in the struggle for a nation where all are truly accepted and loved for who they are.

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