Civil Rights Legend: Black Lives Mattered — Then and Now

By Jasmine M. Ellis

In the age of Black Lives Matter and #SayHerName movements, America’s current racial climate eerily mirrors its past, according to renowned civil rights activist Diane Nash.

“My contemporaries had you in mind when we reacted,” said Nash, keynote speaker for Northwestern University’s campus observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday held on Jan. 25. “Even though we had not yet met you we loved you, and we were trying to bring about the best society we could for you to be born into and to come to age in.

“Future generations are going to look to you to do the same for them,” Nash said.

Reflecting on the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Nash spoke about the philosophy and strategy that laid its foundation. As co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, she was also a Freedom Rider and organized the bus ride that took place from Birmingham, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi to protest segregation in interstate travel.

Nash told the audience to stay involved in their communities and not only rely on politicians for results.

“Voting is extremely important, but voting is not enough,” Nash said. “We must understand that elected officials have not and will not do what’s necessary to protect the interests of this country and the American citizens. We citizens must take the future into our own hands.

“Can you imagine if we had waited for elected officials to desegregate lunch counters, buses and get the right to vote in the South? Now, some 50 odd years later, we probably would still be waiting.”

“Voting is extremely important, but voting is not enough,” Nash said.

Nash said she supports young people in Chicago, Ferguson, New York and beyond protesting the killing of unarmed black males. Nash said she hoped people will continue to step up in the face of social justice challenges.

“Freedom is not something you get and then you’ve got it,” she said. “Freedom is a constant never ending struggle.”

Qunsia Daniel, a senior education major, echoed sentiments of today’s young activists who represent the next incarnation of the civil rights movement of old: “I had really hoped that she would’ve created a greater connection between the movement of the past and the Black Lives Matter movement today.”

Nash reminded the audience oppression is two-sided and requires more than one group of people to participate. She noted that for segregation to end on buses in Montgomery, African-Americans decided to boycott, which brought that form of oppression to an end. They also risked “getting jailed, getting beaten and getting killed.” She also said by not conforming to oppressive systems change is obtainable.

“Oppression always requires the cooperation of the oppressed,” Nash said.

Nneka Onyeka said Nash’s mention of the relationship between oppression and the oppressed made the greatest impression:

“They started these movements out of the resistance of a person or a couple of people,” Onyeka said, a sophomore at Northwestern. “That just made me think that if you’re not OK with something you have to do something to change it so you’re OK with it in the end.”

Photo at top: Diane Nash challenges generations to take a stand against injustice. (Jasmine M. Ellis/MEDILL)