Posts Tagged ‘sitin’

After we visited the Nasvville sit in sites it was time to break for lunch.

We stopped at a Subway and to our surprise Kwame and Rip  split us in two groups .

One group stayed outside – they were the police and the racists.

The other group stayed inside – we were advised to use the ‘non-violent resistance’ we are learning about. We held “whites only” and “coloreds only” signs.

Rip was with us inside, then Kwame and “the police’ came outside and we were advised to sit there and resist, while they re-enacted how they were treated.

I videotaped it and my hands were trembling the entire time. Although it lasted only 7 minutes it felt like an eternity – our tripmates were treated the same way the college students were treated in Nashville, being yelled at and having their books thrown on the floor, drinks thrown on their heads (Kwame used paper in a cup but the effect was the same), having their hair tugged and pulled while being taunted about their race.

I think that may be all that I am allowed to say, and it may be too much.

Because of the powerful  nature of this exercise, and the emotion it elicited – I was told not to post any photos or video.

Let’s just say I’ve changed.


Kwame Lillard personifies the irrepressible spirit that defined the Nashville Movement, and is a life long advocate and activist for civil rights and the advancement of the Movement’s legacy

Next, we were joined by the very dynamic and vibrant Kwame Lillard.

Kwame and Rip took us through all of the places in downtown Nashville – starting with the alley that they used to get together in and mobilize.

Here’s a little more about Kwame, from the bio issued to us:

Kwame Lillard personifies the irrepressible spirit that defined the Nashville Movement, and is a life long advocate and activist for civil rights and the advancement of the Movement’s legacy. A devoted disciple of Jim Lawson and Kelly Miller Smith, he was significantly involved in the management of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Nashville Movement offices, the Nashville sit-ins, and in the coordinating of the freedom rides and training of freedom riders. Kwame Lillard has challenged both Tennessee State University and the City of Nashville to remember their roots in the Movement, the recognition of the students of SNCC, and the City’s responsibility to advance the gains made possible by the Movement.  His knowledge of the history of Tennessee State University, and the Nashville Movement remains an emotional recollection, and at the same time, his advocacy has taken on a currency that shows his equally genuine passion for the legacy of the Nashville Movement and his vision for the City of Nashville.

In 1960, over 100 protestors converged on McLellan’s, Woolworth’s, Kress, and Walgreens to hold sit-ins at the segregated lunch counters. Rip Patton talked about the non-violent tactics used against segregation and how they articulated their plans. The participants of the sit-in had all participated in workshops by Rev. James Lawson. Lawson, while attending Vanderbilt Divinity School, studied the principles of non-violent resistance while working as a missionary in India.

Here are some shots of our group as we walked up Fifth Avenue North.

Nashville sit-ins

Freedom Riders 2010 head to Fifth Avenue North to remember the sit-ins in Nashville.

Lunch Counter Revisited

Lunch Counter Revisited: Freedom Riders 2010 stand and observe the places where the sit-ins in 1960 took place. Freedom Riders 2010 on Fifth Avenue North

Bone McAllester Norton

This lawyer was out on his morning jog, saw Rip, hugged him, and told us how lucky we are to be in his presence.

One of the things I had heard about this trip is that people come out of the woodwork. We weren’t downtown for five minutes when this Nashville lawyer stopped in his tracks during what looked like a morning run to hug Rip and tell us we were in the presence of greatness.

Nashville sit-ins

Our day began by revisiting the places where the Nashville sit-ins took place.

Our first day hitting the streets, Rip Patton took us on a tour of the places where events took place during the Nashville sit-ins. The Nashville sit-ins were part of a nonviolent campaign to end racial segregation at lunch counters in Nashville.

Nashville: Punch the Sky

I came to Nashville not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community.

We had just begun our trip – this photo was taken in the afternoon of the first full day of our trip, June 5.

We started off the morning with Rip Patton, who took us on a walking tour of the places in downtown Nashville, where the sit-ins took place in April of 1960. Rip was a participant and a Freedom Rider. He took us to the courthouse, and we stood in the same spot that Diane Nash stood with Ben West, “Mayor West, do you think it is wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of their race or color?”

We were met later by Kwame Leo Lillard – who staged a mock sit-in at a Subway sandwich shop. Some of us were non-violent resistors, others were police and racists. It was uncomfortable, even knowing it was only a drill. Kwame was in character as he poured pretend water from a cup over the head of one of my classmates. He smacked books to the ground and tugged on people’s hair, called them n*ggers.

Nervously, I got up to take pictures and shoot video. During all of this uncomfortableness I needed to be using my hands, and ‘doing something’ – taking pictures for me takes me from a passive role to a participant.

Then time stood still.

The time dilation during that exercise was astounding. It felt like an eternity, this tense mock sit-in, like I had been standing there shooting video with two hands, for at least an hour. But when I looked later at the video clip on my camera, it had really been just under 8 minutes. For the students who participated in the real sit-ins, sitting there during agitation must have felt like an absolute eternity, time must have felt like it was standing still.

It was there that I began to think, “I cannot possibly imagine what that was like for them.”

The Subway exercise left us collectively with a feeling of helplessness. We left the restaurant to visit the Civil Rights collection at the Nashville Public Library. The calm quiet of the library and the eloquent display of photos and information as you entered the Civil Rights area gave me – and my classmates – to quietly process what we had just gone through, anticipate what the rest of trip was to hold, and review images of the events that took place in and around Nashville – the exercise left me so raw that I really felt the photos as we went through.

I wondered why I was there and why I was doing this. At the same time I was deeply moved by every single thing I saw.

We came to a hallway of books, and at the end there was an archway that said Civil Rights over the entrance to a room with a mock lunch counter, and a giant duratran backdrop. On that backdrop, was the MLK quote: “I came to Nashville, not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community.”

Suddenly, I knew why I was there now and why I was doing this.

I was walking ahead of my classmates taking pictures, so I stood and watched people’s reactions to the quote. So remarkable that a dramatic visual display of words in a library could be so settling and appropriate, relevant.

Powerful words, matched the powerful context.

I think a lot of us were wondering “just why are we here,” until they saw this. Everyone reacted with what looked like release and relief. Classmate Bill Newell was there posing so that his wife Tennille could take a picture , facing the other way than he his in this photo. I asked him to turn around and as he did, he read for a minute, and then punched the sky.

This was the beginning of our trip, and I liked this photo so much it inspired me to keep shooting – I needed to be up close on this trip, and I wanted to remember every frame. And I wanted to catch “moments” like this one.

The cover photo is Rip Patton, talking to members of our group who were seated at the mock lunch counter, about what it was like to be part of the sit-ins.