A new exhibit at the Tennessee State Museum focuses on the landmark events in that helped shape the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
The exhibit, entitled We Shall Not Be Moved: The 50th Anniversary of Tennessee’s Civil Rights Sit-Ins, opened Thursday and continues through May 16 and is free to the public.
During the 1950s and 1960s, African-Americans began mobilizing in a massive movement against segregation. This included nonviolent, direct action campaigns, which culminated in sit-in demonstrations, economic boycotts and marches.
Fifty years ago, a handful of Nashville college students from Fisk University, Tennessee A&I (later Tennessee State), and American Baptist Theological Seminary along with religious leaders Kelly Miller Smith and James Lawson, began a sit-in campaign targeting downtown lunch counters. These actions sparked the formation of a mass sit-in movement, which became the model used across Tennessee and the rest of the South.
These actions are examined in this special exhibition, organized by the curatorial staff at the state museum. The exhibit also looks at segregation in the state and how significant resistance developed in African-American communities.
Lunch counters were prevalent in downtown stores during this era and frequently did not serve anyone other than the white clientele. These segregated establishments became the targets of the first sit-ins. The original stools from the sit-ins that took place at Nashville’s downtown W.T. Grant’s store are held in the museum’s collection and are prominently featured in the exhibition.
Along with period photographs of these events, the exhibit includes such artifacts as signage, which has been preserved to show examples of segregation during this time. Other important artifacts include a letter from a sit-in participant describing a protest and other items related to the sit-ins.
Located at Fifth and Deaderick Streets in downtown Nashville, the museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday and is free to the public.