Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Think one person can't make a difference? Think again.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

I can think of no greater conservative value than ensuring the civil rights of all Americans, a concept embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

In the last decade or so new attention has been focused on the rich and vibrant history of the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. There are many well known heroes. Martin Luther King, jr., obviously is one of them. Rosa Parks is another. Ditto for the Little Rock Eight. And the list goes on, including white civil rights workers such as James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner whose murders were the subject of the poignant film “Mississippi Burning.”

There are also many unsung heroes. Two of my favorites are Diane Nash and Ben West.

In 1960 Diane Nash was a college student at Fisk University in Nashville. She organized student sit-ins at local lunch counters that refused to service blacks. The sit-ins escalated to boycotting the stores that housed the lunch counters that refused them service. On April 19, 1960 the home of a black attorney, Z. Alexander Looby, who counseled the student demonstrators, was destroyed by dynamite. In protest 4,000 students and their supporters marched silently to city hall whereDiane Nash had a stunning confrontation with Mayor Ben West. In their words:

DIANE NASH: We needed him to say, "Integrate the counters," or to tell Nashville to do what Nashville knows it should have done a long time ago, like about 95 years ago after the Civil War. So I asked the mayor, "First of all, Mayor West, do you feel that it's wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of his race or color?"

BEN WEST: They asked me some pretty soul-searching questions. And one that was addressed to me as a man, and I tried as best I could to answer it frankly and honestly, that I could not agree that it was morally right for someone to sell them merchandise and refuse them service. And I had to answer it just exactly that way.

Of course, I received considerable criticism for it, but had I to answer it again, I would answer it in the same way again because it was a moral question and it was one that a man has to answer and not a politician.

DIANE NASH: I have a lot of respect for the way he responded. He didn't have to respond the way he did. He said that he felt like it was wrong for citizens of Nashville to be discriminated against at the lunch counter solely on the basis of the color of their skin. And I think that was the turning point.

The lunch counters were integrated. The boycott ended. Diane Nash went on to battle for civil rights throughout the south. Ben West served as mayor until 1963. He died in 1974.

If you don’t think one person can make a difference, think again.

1 comment:

Dad29 said...

Good story.