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I AM A MAN Award Recipient 2017

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Diane J. Nash

Diane Nash became involved in the nonviolent movement in 1959 when she was a student at Fisk University. She was Chairperson of the student sit-in movement in the first southern city to desegregate its lunch counters (Nashville, Tennessee, 1960) and was one of the founding students of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She was the coordinator of the Freedom Ride (from Birmingham, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi, 1961). Her first child was expected to be born in jail since she was jailed while pregnant in Jackson, MS among many other arrests which included serving 30 days in Rock Hill, SC. In 1961, she was the Director of the direct action arm of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. President John F. Kennedy appointed her to a national committee that promoted passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ms. Nash was a field staff person, an organizer, strategist, race relations staff person, and workshop instructor for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), 1961-65. She continued to be an activist in the peace movement that worked to end the Vietnam war and an instructor in the philosophy and strategy of non-violence as developed by Mohandas Gandhi in India. In 1995 historian David Halberstam described Nash as "…bright, focused, utterly fearless, with an unerring instinct for the correct tactical move at each increment of the crisis; as a leader, her instincts had been flawless, and she was the kind of person who pushed those around her to be at their best, or be gone from the movement.

Ms. Nash received one of six awards at the March on Washington (1963) presented to Negro Women Freedom Fighters. She was one of two people who conceptualized and formed SCLC’s initial strategy for the Selma Right-To-Vote movement, as well as participated in its development until its conclusion; the Selma movement was one of the major efforts that resulted in the Voting Rights Act. For this work, she and her co-strategist received SCLC's highest award, the Rosa Parks Award, which was presented in 1965 by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The War Resisters’ League Peace Award for 1965 was awarded jointly to Diane Nash Bevel and James Bevel.

Decades after she played a critical role in the Civil Rights Movement, Diane Nash remains committed to the principles of nonviolence that have guided her throughout her life. Although she was a key architect in many of the Movement's most successful efforts, she remains humble upon reflection. "It took many thousands of people to make the changes that we made, people whose names we'll never know. They'll never get credit for the sacrifices they've made, but I remember them."


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