Raising a Nonviolent Army: Four Nashville Black Colleges and the Century-Long Struggle for Civil Rights, 1830s-1930s
deGregory, Crystal Anne
As the “Athens of the South,” Nashville is the home of Fisk, Meharry, Tennessee State and American Baptist Theological colleges, four of the South’s oldest black centers of higher education. The role of these schools’ students in the modern Civil Rights Movement however, has been largely attributed to the black church tradition. Yet, long before scores of Nashville college students planned, organized and executed one of the most disciplined nonviolent direct-action campaigns against segregation during the 1960s, black college students, faculty and alumni enjoyed a century-long history of often complicated and sometimes multifarious activism. While the study reveals the institutional, personal and collective risks of black college activism, it attempts to answer one principal question: As centers of black thought, agency, self-determination and social responsibility, do black colleges deserve more credit for their role in the black resistance narrative; and if so, have they been cheated by orthodoxy which contends that the black church alone is at the epicenter of black activism? The archival sources for this project include public documents, institutional and personal correspondence, student publications, newspapers, as well as administrative and board records. When woven together, these histories will bring to bear the causal factors that are both exceptional to the Nashville movement as well as representative of the larger narrative of student activism. In doing so, this project reconsiders the place of black colleges, and by extension of it black educational efforts in the larger struggle for civil rights stretching back to the early 19th century. It argues that black college student activists in Nashville and across the South during the modern Civil Rights Movement, whether they knew it or not, stood in the much longer tradition of black college activism.