Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination — and at a time when race relations and human rights are again at the forefront of our country’s political and social consciousness — the Frist Art Museum presents a selection of approximately 50 photographs that document an important period in Nashville’s struggle for racial equality. The images were taken between 1957, the year that desegregation began in public schools, and 1968, when Dr. King was killed in Memphis. Of central significance are photographs of lunch counter sit-ins led by a group of students—including John Lewis and Diane Nash—from local historically black colleges and universities, which took place in early 1960. The role that Nashville played in the national civil rights movement as a hub for training students in nonviolent protest and as the first southern city to integrate places of business peacefully is a story that warrants reexamination and introduction to younger generations and newcomers to the region. The exhibition also provides opportunities to consider the role of images and the media in shaping public opinion—a relevant subject in today’s news-saturated climate.
Pictured: “Demonstrators are singing in front of the Nashville Police Department Aug. 7, 1961, as they protest what they called police brutality in a racial clash two nights earlier. The blacks criticized ‘inadequate’ police protection and called for qualified black personnel to ‘replace incompetent officers on the police force.’ ” Photo by Eldred Reaney with permission from The Tennessean