Diane Nash, civil rights movement leader, reflects on Selma

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Thursday, March 5, 2015
Diane Nash, civil rights leader, remembers Selma
Diane Nash, a Chicago native who worked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., as an architect of the civil rights movement, reflects on the Selma Voting Rights marches.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- This weekend marks 50 years since the day known as Bloody Sunday, when protesters marching for equal voting rights in Selma, Alabama were met with gruesome violence. This evening, ABC7 Eyewitness News anchor Hosea Sanders catches up with a Chicago south-sider at the DuSable Museum to hear how she worked side-by-side with Dr. King and strategized much of the movement.

For young activist Diane Nash, it all began with four little girls: Carole Robertson, Denise Mcnair, Addie Mae Collins And Cynthia Wesley, all killed when the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham, Alabama church in 1963.

"People don't realize that the only thing more tragic than those little girls getting killed would have been if there was no good result," Nash says, "and so the right to vote for blacks in the south is a direct result of them getting killed."

Nash and her then-husband, James Bevel, are credited as the architects of Selma voter's right movement.

"The day the girls were murdered in the bombing at the 16th street Baptist church in Birmingham, he and I wrote the initial plan for what became the Selma right to vote movement," she says.

After the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks presented the couple with an award honoring their efforts. Nash recalls having to convince Dr. King to take up the cause.

"We tried for several months to persuade Martin King and Andy Young, who was the executive director of SCLC at the time, to go into Alabama on a voting project and we were not successful," she recalls. "It always seemed to be some type of thing that needed to be done right away. So Jim and I decided that he would take the car and some of his staff and start organizing. It was a big sacrifice for me because I was expecting a baby and had a toddler at the time."

Though Nash is viewed as the only woman who held a consistent place in Dr. King's inner-circle, she takes pride in having charted her own course.

"I never considered Dr. King my leader," she says. "I always considered myself at his side and I considered him at my side. I was going to do what the spirit told me to do. So If I had a leader, that was my leader."

The Chicago native started in the movement as a student at Fisk University in Nashville. In 1960, she helped found the student nonviolent coordinating committee and then led the Freedom Rides from Birmingham, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi. She was also a key organizer of the historic march on Washington in 1963. She says she was so tired that she decided to stay in and rest while others attended the march. She was watching on television when she heard her name being called to the stage to recognize her role.

"If I had known that I was getting an award, I definitely would have gone," she says.

Now 76 years old, Nash is still active with civil rights causes, but her humble spirit balks at the idea of being hailed a hero.

"It took many thousands of people to make the changes that we made," she says, "people whose names we'll never know. They'll never get credit for the sacrifices they've made, but I remember them."

Diane Nash will take part in events this weekend commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the historic march for voting rights.

ABC7 Eyewitness News will have live coverage of the commemorative events in Selma throughout the weekend.