Civil Rights Room
The Nashville Public Library (615 Church St., 615/862-5800, Mon.–Thurs. 9 a.m.–8 p.m., Fri. 9 a.m.–6 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 2–5 p.m., free) houses the city’s best exhibit on the movement for civil rights that took place in Nashville in the 1950s and ’60s. Nashville was the first Southern city to desegregate public services, and it did so relatively peacefully, setting an example for activists throughout the south.
The story of the courageous men and women who made this change happen is told through photographs, videos, and displays in the Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library. The library is a fitting location for the exhibit, since the block below on Church Street was the epicenter of the Nashville sit-ins during 1960.
Inside the room, large-format photographs show school desegregation, sit-ins, and a silent march to the courthouse. A circular table at the center of the room is symbolic of the lunch counters where young students from Fisk, Meharry, American Baptist, and Tennessee A&I sat silently and peacefully at sit-ins.
The table is engraved with the ten rules of conduct set out for sit-in participants, including rules to be polite and courteous at all times, regardless of how you are treated. A timeline of the national and Nashville civil rights movements is presented above the table.
Inside a glass-enclosed viewing room you can choose from six different documentary videos, including an hour-long 1960 NBC news documentary about the Nashville sit-ins. Many of the videos are 30 minutes or longer, so plan on spending several hours here if you are keenly interested in the topics.
The centerpiece of the Civil Rights Room is a glass inscription by Martin Luther King, who visited the city in 1960 and said, during a speech at Fisk University: “I came to Nashville not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community.”
Nashville is planning a new and much-needed museum dedicated to its African-American history and culture, which will be located at the corner of Jefferson and 8th Avenues, near the farmer’s market. Until this museum is built, the Nashville Public Library is the best place to learn about the city’s racially segregated past and the movement that changed that.
The Civil Rights Room is located on the 2nd floor of the library, adjacent to the room that houses its Nashville collection.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition