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Sat, 02.13.1960

The Nashville ‘Sit-In’s’ Begin

*On this date in 1960, the Nashville sit-ins occurred. This was part of a nonviolent direct action campaign to end Jim Crow segregation at lunch counters in downtown Nashville, Tennessee.

The sit-in campaign, coordinated by the Nashville Student Movement and Nashville Christian Leadership Council, was notable for its early success and emphasis on disciplined nonviolence. Throughout the campaign, sit-ins were staged at stores in Nashville's central business district. White onlookers often verbally or physically attacked sit-in participants, mainly Black college students. Despite their refusal to retaliate, over 150 students were eventually arrested for refusing to vacate store lunch counters when ordered to do so by police. At trial, the students were represented by a group of 13 lawyers headed by Z. Alexander Looby.

On April 19 that year, Looby's home was bombed; however, neither he nor his wife was injured. Later that day, nearly 4000 people marched to City Hall to confront Mayor Ben West about the escalating violence. When asked if he believed the lunch counters in Nashville should be desegregated, West agreed they should. After subsequent negotiations between the storeowners and protest leaders, an agreement was reached during the first week of May.

On May 10, 1960, six downtown stores began serving black customers at their lunch counters for the first time. Although the initial campaign successfully desegregated downtown lunch counters, sit-ins, pickets, and protests against other segregated facilities continued in Nashville until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended overt, legally sanctioned segregation nationwide. Many of the organizers of the Nashville sit-ins went on to become important leaders in the 20th-century American Civil Rights Movement.

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