Diane Nash

Diane Nash

"Freedom by definition, is people realizing that they are their own leaders." - Diane Nash

Illustration by Sarah Pollasch

Illustration by Sarah Pollasch

Diane Nash was born on May 15, 1938 and raised on the south side of Chicago. She grew up in a middle class, Catholic family and at one time, considered becoming a nun. After graduating high school in 1958, she enrolled at Howard University in Washington DC. After a year, she transferred to Fisk University in Nashville, where she majored in English. 

Nash first experience Jim Crow laws while attending college in the south. She found the racial segregation degrading and dehumanizing and decided to confront the realities of segregation by becoming an activist for the Civil Rights Movement. 

Nash began attending nonviolent civil disobedience workshops led by James Lawson. Lawson had spent time in India studying Mahatma Gandhi and the techniques of nonviolent action and passive resistance used in his political movement. In 1960, at the age of 22, Nash became the leader of the Nashville sit-ins to become the leader of the Nashville Sit-in Movement at downtown lunch counters. She organized black and white students, who came dressed in their Sunday best and resisted with dignity against the violent mobs that broke out. The sit-ins continued and the media began focusing on Nash as the spokesperson. With the media watching, Nash was given the opportunity to stand on the steps of City Hall and ask the mayor of Nashville, Ben West an important question, "Do you feel it is wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of their race or color?" Mayor West admitted that he did and three weeks later Nashville diners were serving blacks. 

Nash also worked to establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and soon left college to work for the organization full time. She later took over responsibility for the Freedom Rides that went from Birmingham, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi. Nash was arrested several times and spent several nights in jail during her tireless effort to fight segregation. 

In 1963 President John F. Kennedy appointed Nash to a national committee to prepare civil rights legislation. Eventually his proposed bill was passed as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The following year, the SCLC awarded its highest award, to Diane Nash and her husband James Bevel for their leadership in initiating and organizing the Alabama Project and the Selma Voting Rights Movement. 

Nash returned to Chicago, where she completed her college degree and became an educator. Diane Nash played a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement and is regarded as a champion for racial justice, human dignity, and peace. 


"Nash's steady determination and leadership in the face of injustice and violence, her composure and eloquence in engaging both authorities of opposing viewpoints as well as the press, her strategic mobilization of a non-violent student movement, and doing all this as a young woman of color in the 1960s - In her, I find her an inspiring and relevant role model" - Sarah Barga Pollasch


The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.

Daisy Bates

Daisy Bates

Dorothy Dandridge

Dorothy Dandridge