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Counter Histories: Nashville

This powerful short film discusses the civil rights movement through the eyes of demonstrators who helped desegregate restaurants and popular lunch counters in the 1960s.

The movement began to build momentum in the winter of 1959, when black residents of Nashville demonstrated by sitting department store lunch counters. This propelled the rise of prominent figures in the civil rights movement, such as John Lewis, who began assembling the community to take action for equal rights.

Matthew Walker Jr., a civil rights veteran, remembers simulation training, in which the group would practice sitting at a counter while other members insulted them and threw drinks at them. "It was a combination of tragedy and comedy," he says.

Civil rights veteran Gloria McKissack recounts her experience at the sit-in. Being the last one to leave, she was dragged out by the busboys and verbally abused by a white female patron. She still feels the humiliation today.

In 1960, a prominent civil rights lawyer's home was bombed. In a public stand-off with 4,000 protesters, activists called on Nashville's mayor to desegregate the city's restaurants to prevent more violence. The mayor said "yes."

Many organizers in Nashville became leaders in the civil rights movement, which culminated with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Walker Jr. reminds us there is still work to be done. He says, "I would ask young people if there's anything they can do which would shoulder some social responsibility."

Courtesy of Southern Foodways.

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