Freedom fighter Diane Nash inspires students with keynote speech
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 15:02
At 7 p.m. this past Thursday, Feb. 20, UTM Professor of History Dr. David Barber opened up the event as the coordinator of UTM’s 13th Annual Civil Rights Conference.
Barber labeled the Civil Rights Movement as the most important movement of the 20th century. UTM is one of only two institutions in the United States that sponsors an event marking the significance of the movement.
After his introduction, the audience was rewarded with a performance by the UTM Collegiate Gospel Choir, directed by Reverend Alvin Summers. The choir performed the freedom song, “I’m Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table,” as well as other similar songs.
Introduced shortly after the performance, the keynote speaker of the entire conference was Freedom Fighter Diane Nash. Her speech was entitled, “The Civil Rights Movement and Social Change in the 21st Century.”
Now 74 years old, Nash is still an enormously significant leader in the Civil Rights movement. Her first contact with blatantly extreme segregation was when she attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., in 1960. Astonished at the horrid degree of racism and inequality, she went on to become the chairperson of the student sit-in movement in Nashville.
Consequentially, in 1960, Nashville became the first city in the South to desegregate its lunch counters. The same year she helped found the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Moreover, the next year, Nash was coordinator of the Freedom Ride from Birmingham, Ala., to Jackson, Miss.
“They told me, ‘You’re just going to get in trouble, and you’re not going to be successful,’” Nash said. She said if she followed the rules of segregation, “It felt like I was agreeing, or that I was too scared.”
Inevitably, Nash felt that she had to help bring about change. She had talked around and learned of the fight of Gandhi, “Hold onto Truth.” He waged war against his enemies without violence; rather, he and his followers utilized energy produced by love to bring about social change.
Consequentially, Nash derived her own term, “Agapic Energy,” from the Latin word “agape,”meaning, “love for humankind.” She explained that “Agapic Energy” refers to energy or power produced by love of humankind, and such was essentially the driving force behind her fight for equality.
There were two principles of Agapic Energy that she wanted the audience to understand, the first one being, “people are never the enemy.” She suggested that the enemy was not the people but rather racism and social inequality themselves were the enemies.
“If you can accept that, then you can love and respect [them] at the same time you attack the action,” Nash said.
She then wanted the audience to understand the second principle: “Oppression always requires the cooperation of the oppressed. … The day black people decided there would be no more segregated buses in Montgomery, there were no more segregated buses in Montgomery.”
Nash’s experience with the Civil Rights struggle allowed her to also give the audience a clear vision of the six steps involved in bringing about social change by way of utilizing Agapic Energy: investigation, education, negotiation, demonstration, resistance and, finally, taking steps to ensure it doesn’t reoccur.
“It’s not easy, [but] it’s an alternate and better way to conduct social struggle,” Nash said.
She intuitively reminded students in the audience that it was not politicians that brought about change but rather it is “we citizens [who] must take the future of this country into our own hands. … There is no one to solve the problems but you and me.”
It was Diane Nash’s final words that were the most inspirational and that perhaps left the deepest impression on students and teachers alike. Transcending generational and racial boundaries, Nash stated that in the 1960s she and other freedom fighters were thinking of “the Unborn”—those in the future and the lives they had yet to live during hard times.
“Even though we had not met you, we loved you. … And future generations will look to you. Freedom is a constant, never-ending struggle,” Nash said.
Although Nash never had time to receive her degree, she led a life fighting for equality. She has appeared in several documentaries, shows and films, and she has received multiple honors, including the John F. Kennedy Library “Distinguished American Award” in 2003.
At the end of her presentation, Nash received a standing ovation for her love of humankind and her ceaseless dedication to promoting social justice and equality.