Civil Rights Leader speaks at MTSU for Constitution Day

Written by Julie Maresco, Graduate Assistant and Donna Baker, University Archivist

On September 14, 2016,  the Albert Gore Research Center closed in order for staff and students to hear Civil Rights leader Diane Nash speak. Ms. Nash was the primary speaker for Constitution Week at MTSU.  Dr. Carroll Van West, director of the Center for Historic Preservation, and Dr. Mary Evins, Coordinator of the American Democracy Project, introduced our special speaker and set the stage for Ms. Nash. They emphasized her leadership role in Nashville’s lunch counter sit-ins and the monumental effects the sit-ins had on both Nashville and the country, her involvement with the freedom bus rides, the march on Selma, her significance in the women’s rights movement, and her ongoing leadership in social justice causes.


Four MTSU students (Torren Gatson, Marquita Reed, Jessica Shotwell, and Alvin Pike) joined Diane Nash on stage and conducted a Question & Answer session, covering topics such as voting, public education, and housing.

Ms. Nash focused on the movement of the 1960s and elaborated on the concept of non-violence by describing it in a new way. Although she was taught non-violent resistance practices utilized by Mahatma Gandhi as a college student at Fisk University, she believed “non-violence” was a negative term and what they were trying to accomplish was positive. Therefore, she coined the term “agapic energy” to describe the movement, which comes from the Greek word Agape (love for humankind). The main principle of this energy is that people are capable of waging warfare without weapons or physical force, but rather emotional force–particularly love. Agapic energy is active, making those resisting segregation and inequality not simply protesters but activists as a result.

According to agapic energy’s principle, people are never the enemy. Ms. Nash emphasized how the real enemies are unjust political and economic systems, attitudes, racism, and hate. Agapic energy requires a love and respect for the person and an intolerance of the system. She made it clear that killing individuals does not kill the system, so it is not the answer. It also emphasizes that oppression always requires the cooperation of the oppressed and the oppressed need to change first in order to alter the system of power.


From left to right: Matthew Walker, Peggy Alexander, Diane Nash, and Stanley Hemphill. Nash participated in some of the first lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville in the 1960s. (Photo courtesy of Gerald Holly, The Tennessean)

Ms. Nash made clear that lessons learned in the Civil Rights Movement still apply to social justice movements today.  She emphatically stated several times that it is up to citizens to make social change and for them not to rely on a charismatic leader or an elected official to solve problems. She speculated that if they had waited for someone else to change things during the Civil Rights Movement, they might be facing the same struggles today. Although she recognized Martin Luther King Jr.’s contribution to the movement as spokesman and an organizer, she clarified that it was not solely his movement, but a people’s movement.  Further, she warned the audience about trusting the corporate media, calling for oppressed communities to create their own media outlets.

Ms. Nash concluded with a moderated question session by a MTSU student panel (see photograph above) as well as taking questions from the audience. In her answers to questions on Black Lives Matter, how to organize when there is a large measure of apathy, and fighting stereotypes in the media, Ms. Nash reiterated the necessity of organized groups and communities in achieving any success, continuing to exercise hard-won voting rights regardless of the political environment, and combating attitudes of white supremacy.

Diane Nash continues to be an inspiration and role model for all those seeking positive change in our society.

Further References:

Books referenced by Diane Nash:

The Power of Non-Violence by Richard Gregg

My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Ghandi

Conquest of Violence by Joan Bondurant

For information about the accuracy of headlines and current issues:

Documentaries on Diane Nash:

Freedom Riders

Eyes on the Prize

Diane Nash on Internet Movie Database



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