Below is an article written by our local reporter, Calvin Carter, of the Brownsville States Graphic. Thanks Calvin, for letting us share it with our friends.
|Photo by Calvin Carter, Brownsville States Graphic|
By CALVIN CARTER email@example.com
Approximately 50 years ago, Nashville college students from Fish University, A&I, and American Baptist Theological Seminary began a sit-in campaign with religious leader Kelly Miller Smith and James Lawson during the Civil Rights fight against segregation.
The non-violent protest emerged in the form of massive sit-ins at downtown lunch counter.
The incident would serve as the spark and guide for many others throughout Tennessee, including those in the Knoxville, Chattanooga and Memphis areas.
Until January 22, 2012, residents will have the opportunity to learn much about the sit-ins at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center thanks to the traveling exhibit We Shall Not Be Moved: The 50th Anniversary of Tennessee’s Civil Rights Sit-Ins.
The free exhibit made its premiere at the center last Friday, December 9, pulling a pretty strong crowd.
Through its immense collection of pictures, signage, stories and even letters from protestors, the exhibit explains the thoughts and motivations of a generation forced to fight violent reactions to their protests with non-violence and steady resolve.
What’s perhaps incredible about the exhibit is that while it offers a lot, it’s a significantly scaled down version of the original, noted Tennessee State Curator Graham Perry.
“We had a lot of visuals, for example like hundreds of photos. And there was also a replica lunch counter we couldn’t include for the mobile version,” Perry said. “We had to choose the most visual, or the ones that told the best parts of the story.”
While the exhibit has been “from one end of Tennessee to literally the other,” Perry said, it will conclude its journey in February 2013, before settling at the University Of Tennessee at Martin in 2014.
Perry stated that he learned so much while helping to put the exhibit together, including how the national sit-ins reflected locally.
“I learned a lot about the sit-ins. Despite the fact that the Civil Rights Movements was happening nationwide, it was really a thinly veiled version of what was happening locally. It was the spark,” Perry said.
The exhibit also received a new surprise in the form of a noteworthy addition.
|Jim Ruth drove the first group of Freedom Riders from Nashville to Jackson, Miss., in 1961. He was 21 years old and drove for Trailways. Mr. Ruth greeted visitors as they arrived to see the new exhibit.|
In 1961, a Chester County resident by the name of Jim Ruth, served as a bus driver for Trailways.
At 21-years-old, and with the promise of $19 and half pay per day for the trip, Ruth would drive a group that many of his other co-workers had refused from either fear or hate of the group.
“One professor in that group told me that, ‘Mr. Ruth you don’t know what you’re doing. You could get hurt or worse from this,” Ruth recalled. “’I said, I’m doing something that I’m suppose to do. If I’m going to die, then my bags are packed.’”
But Ruth took the Nashville group to their destination in Jackson, Miss., and unknowingly would immerse himself as a part of history.
Ruth would drive a group that would become known as the Freedom Riders, and while there was potential opposition, he noted the group arrived safely to their destination.
“They were the best group of people I’ve ever hauled,” Ruth said. “This makes me feel good that I’ve done something for someone.”
Ruth, who was recently honored by the NAACP in Nashville, heard about the exhibit at the West Heritage Delta Center on the news, and decided to see if he could offer any items from the incident for display.
His items will be one display until the exhibit makes it exit. But along with Ruth’s addition, the hopes of what the exhibit will do for the latest generation remains the same.
“I hope that young people will come in and see that young people are capable of causing change,” Perry said.