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Civil Rights Pioneer Diane Nash to Deliver Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote

Northwestern University’s annual MLK Jr. observance at Pick-Staiger set for Jan. 25

  • Northwestern University to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy
  • Civil rights activist and pioneer Diane Nash to speak at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
  • Nash was a leader and strategist of the student wing of the 1960s civil rights movement
  • Nash coordinated the 1961 Freedom Ride from Birmingham, Ala., to Jackson, Miss.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Legendary civil rights and peace activist Diane Nash -- who became involved in the nonviolent civil rights movement in 1959 when she was a college student in Nashville -- will be the keynote speaker at Northwestern University’s 2016 commemoration of the life and legacy of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Nash, one of the founding students of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, will speak on both the Evanston and Chicago campuses Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. Both programs are free and open to the public.

She will be the keynote speaker during the 6 p.m. University-wide MLK Commemoration at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive. Free and open to the public, the annual program will include music and performances from Northwestern student groups.

Nash’s Chicago campus talk at noon, Jan. 25, will take place in Thorne Auditorium, located in the Arthur Rubloff Building, 375 E. Chicago Ave., during a program sponsored by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and Pritzker School of Law. 

Nash, a Chicago native who had never experienced segregation in public accommodations prior to moving to the South, went on to become one of the civil rights movement’s pioneers.

She was a leader and strategist of the student wing of the 1960s civil rights movement. Her campaigns were among the most successful of the era. In 1960, Nash became the chairperson of the Fisk University student sit-in movement in Nashville, Tenn., the first southern city to desegregate its lunch counters.

In 1961, Nash coordinated the Freedom Ride from Birmingham, Ala., to Jackson, Miss. She also played a key role in bringing Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Montgomery, Ala., May 21 of that year, in support of the Freedom Riders.

That memorable journey was documented in the recent Public Broadcast Services (PBS) American Experience film “Freedom Riders.” The 2011 documentary tells the inspirational story behind a courageous band of civil rights activists who challenged segregation in the American South.

Nash’s numerous arrests for her civil rights activities culminated in Nash being imprisoned for 30 days in 1961, while she was pregnant with her first child. Persevering despite setbacks, she joined a national committee -- to which she was appointed by President John F. Kennedy -- that promoted passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

She went on to become active in the peace movement that worked to end the Vietnam War. Nash also became an instructor in the philosophy and strategy of non-violence as developed by Mohandas K. Gandhi (also known as Mahatma Gandhi), the pacifist leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India.

Nash is the recipient of the War Resisters’ League Peace Award; the Distinguished American Award, presented by the John F. Kennedy Library; the LBJ Award for Leadership in Civil Rights, from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum; and an honorary doctorate of human letters from Fisk University, her alma mater. In 2009, she delivered the Slavery Remembrance Day Memorial Lecture in Liverpool, England. 

Her many accomplishments have been cited in numerous books, documentaries, magazines and newspapers. Her television and film appearances include “The Oprah Winfrey Show”; director Spike Lee’s 1997 documentary “4 Little Girls,” about the 1963 bombing during a Sunday morning service at an African-American Baptist church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four black schoolgirls. Nash also appears as herself in PBS’ award-winning 14-hour television documentary series, “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965,” about the glory years of the movement, which premiered in 1987. The series won a number of awards, including six Emmys. More information on Nash is available online.

Northwestern has suspended classes Monday, Jan. 18, on the Evanston and Chicago campuses for a University-wide, full-day observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

More information on January 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Observance-related events is available online.