June 4, 2011 Nashville

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Freedom Ride Leader Diane Nash attended Fisk University.

Our bus ride through the Deep South begins at sun up. So slap on the sunscreen and put on your sunglasses. We have a lot to see before sundown. We begin at the beginning: Nashville. One highlight of the trip is to meet as many of the original Freedom Riders as possible. When you look at the pictures it may seem to like I’ve avoided them. I haven’t: I had to sign a photo release saying I wouldn’t post pictures of the actual Freedom Riders on a blog or any other social media to protect their privacy. So if you’re curious as to why I don’t include the Freedom Riders, that’s why – remember, we are traveling with law students!   

Jim Lawson, a divinity student from Vanderbilt, spearheaded the movement. Jim was a Quaker and had gone to India to study Gandhi’s non-violent movement. Lawson inspired the students to have the courage to challenge the Jim Crow laws. Rip was one of the first students to join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was a rider and a runner. Runners kept the organizers informed when a group of students were arrested for crossing the color line (whites went into the black only section and blacks went into the white only areas). The idea was to provoke the police into calling a paddy wagon and arresting them all. The organizers sent wave after wave of students into department stores to sit at the lunch counters, stand at movie theaters and wait at bus stations. It was easy to literally fill the jails with people who had violated the Jim Crow laws. We spent this day touring important sites in Nashville.

Diane Nash

Many of the leaders of the movement were Fisk University students. Fisk was the elite private university for black students and one of the most vocal members of the movement was Fisk student Diane Nash. The public university where many other student activists attended college was Tennessee State University (TSU). Rip Patton was a TSU student and he was expelled along with all the other students from TSU, for participating in the movement.

"Rip" Patton, one of the original 1961 Freedom Riders leads us in a Freedom Song in this picture. Freedom songs were an important part of the movement.

What could be a more authentic and meaningful learning experience than fighting for rights that you know are your legal right? The organization and commitment that it took to keep this movement going for months was an amazing feat. Something like 25 TSU students never received their college diplomas because they were expelled. None of the Fisk students were expelled.

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Tennessee State University. This is were Rip Patton attended. It is within walking distance of Fisk.

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