MURFREESBORO — MTSU is celebrating Constitution Day Wednesday, Sept. 14, with a woman whose decades of activism helped secure the blessings of liberty for all American citizens.
Civil rights leader Diane Nash, whose ideas and actions helped integrate Nashville lunch counters, desegregate bus travel and ultimately lead to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, will speak at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 14 in a free public address inside MTSU’s Tucker Theatre.
Nash’s talk, titled “Saying No to Oppression: Legacy and Civic Responsibility,” is one of the highlights of the daylong celebration across campus in observation of the 229th anniversary of the Constitution’s signing.
Students, faculty, staff and visitors will read the historic document at multiple sites across MTSU throughout the day, and voter registration tables will be set up in busy locations to help citizens prepare for the Nov. 8 federal and state elections.
And at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 14, Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Tracy Nelson, the blues-rock icon who fronted Mother Earth in the 1960s and ’70s and now sings across the country, will perform songs of freedom in Room 221 of the McWherter Learning Resources Center.
Free public parking for Nash’s 2:30 p.m. talk will be available in the lot adjoining MTSU’s Reese Smith Baseball Field, which is across the street from Tucker Theatre. A searchable, printable campus map is available at http://tinyurl.com/MTSUParkingMap.
“2016 is a historically significant year of the woman in the United States,” noted Dr. Mary Evins, director of the American Democracy Project at MTSU and coordinator of the university’s Constitution Day activities.
“One hundred years ago, in 1916, the first woman was elected to Congress. Fifty years ago, the National Organization for Women was founded. In 1981, 35 years ago, the first woman was appointed and confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Just last month, Tennessee unveiled the state’s woman suffrage statue. Civil rights, justice, voting rights, and rights for all people are the ongoing work of building a perfect union, and our universitywide programming (for Constitution Day) challenges students to get involved in this shared work.
“Ms. Nash is the embodiment of our fundamental American values and responsibilities, for which we honor her,” added Evins, who also serves as research professor with the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU. “Some of MTSU’s finest student leaders will moderate the post-lecture discussion with Ms. Nash.”
You can get a preview of the discussion this Sunday, Sept. 11, from 6 to 6:30 a.m. when Nash and Evins’ conversation about civil rights and the Constitution airs on WMOT-FM/Roots Radio 89.5 and http://www.wmot.org.
Constitution Day this year is actually Saturday, Sept. 17, but MTSU is observing it four days early to help more students participate.
Nash, who lives in Chicago, was a student at Nashville’s Fisk University in the late 1950s and early ’60s when she became active in the burgeoning civil rights movement. She led the Nashville sit-ins in 1960, peacefully demonstrating with other students against the city’s whites-only lunch counters until then-Mayor Ben West made Nashville the first Southern city to desegregate the eateries in May.
Nash also co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and joined the 1961 Freedom Rides to make interstate bus travel accessible to all, as well as working for voter registration and education equality in Mississippi and Alabama. She worked with fellow activist James Bevel, her husband at the time, to organize the Selma-to-Montgomery marches for voting rights in Alabama, where protesters’ efforts convinced President Lyndon Johnson to push the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through Congress.
As a result of her work, Nash has received numerous awards and recognition, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Rosa Parks Award, the John F. Kennedy Library and Foundation’s Distinguished American Award and the Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum. She’s been an integral part of award-winning documentaries, including the “Eyes on the Prize” series and the PBS “American Experience” documentary on the Freedom Riders, and was one of the focuses of David Halberstam’s “The Children.”
MTSU observes the Constitution’s 1787 signing every year with special events and programs organized by the university chapter of the American Democracy Project.
Last year’s civic-awareness efforts also included a special panel discussion on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Voting Rights Act with two men who were right in the middle of the action: Nash’s fellow activists, the Revs. C.T. Vivian and James Lawson.
Tuesday, Oct. 11, is the final voter registration deadline in Tennessee to cast a ballot on Nov. 8.
For more information about American Democracy Project events at MTSU, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.mtsu.edu/amerdem.