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UT-Martin Civil Rights Conference includes Native American Civil Rights struggles in Tennessee


Examining ‘Tennessee Segregation: Civil Rights’ focus of ninth annual Civil Rights Conference

utmMARTIN: “Tennessee in Segregation and Civil Rights” is the theme of the University of Tennessee at Martin’s ninth annual Civil Rights Conference  running through Feb. 27.

The Rev. James Lawson, who led the successful struggle against segregation in Nashville, will offer the conference keynote address at 7 p.m., Feb. 26, in Watkins Auditorium of Boling University Center. While at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School, Lawson organized and trained students to challenge segregation in Nashville. Under his tutelage, the Civil Rights Movement made Nashville one of the first Southern cities in which segregation fell.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on visiting Nashville in 1960, proclaimed that, “I came to Nashville not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community.” Lawson trained many future leaders of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, including Diane Nash, James Bevel, Marion Barry, Bernard Lafayette and John Lewis.

Opening ceremonies for the Civil Rights Conference began Feb. 21 with “An Afternoon of Art and Spoken Word,” sponsored by the Ken-Tenn Community Forum.

Today, Native American Civil Rights Day, Feb. 24, will feature a presentation by Native American civil rights activist and musician, Bill Miller, at 7 p.m., in Watkins Auditorium. Miller is a two-time Grammy Award winner for best Native American music. He currently lives in Nashville, where he also maintains an art studio. Miller’s presentation will include some of his greatest hits, including the award-winning, “Reservation Road.”

A whole series of panels and events mark conference activities on Feb. 25 and Feb. 26. On Feb. 25, UT Martin Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, Phil Dane, will speak on the integration of college football at 10 a.m., in Room 204, Humanities Building. At noon, the Hortense Parrish Writing Center will sponsor a Black Writers’ Workshop in Room 209, Humanities Building.

From there, the program shifts to the Tennessee Room in the McCombs Center where, from 1 to 2 p.m., a representative from the gay rights organization, the Tennessee Equality Project, will address issues of civil rights and sexual orientation. From 2 to 3 p.m., South Fulton natives, Joyce Washington, Pete Algee and Robert Vanderford, will discuss the segregation and desegregation of the South Fulton school system. Wednesday’s events will conclude with a presentation by Dr. Al Jordon, a product of the segregated Rosenwald School in Trenton, discussing Civil Rights in the 21st Century.

Bobby Lovett will kick off the first of five events on Thursday with a talk, “Intro to Tennessee in Segregation and Civil Rights,” from 9:30-10:45 a.m. Lovett is a professor of history and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Tennessee State University and the foremost historian of the Civil Rights Movement in the state of Tennessee.

Next, panelists, Richard Saunders and Myles Wilson, will discuss “Segregation and Civil Rights in Fayette County, Tenn.” from 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Saunders is a UT Martin associate professor of library science and museum curator. Wilson is Fayette County School System superintendent.

From 1-2:15 p.m., Leo Lillard, Mary Salynn McCollum and Diane Nash will lead a discussion on the “Tennessee Freedom Riders.” Although it is not well known, the Nashville student movement provided crucial leadership for the Freedom Rides, which challenged and defeated segregation in interstate bus travel and interstate bus facilities in 1960 and 1961. Lillard, McCollum and Nash participated in and led the Nashville freedom riders in this effort.

From 2:45-4 p.m., Vivian Morris and Curtis Morris will discuss “The Schools We Lost, the Schools We Are Seeking” in Gooch Hall. The Morrises are co-authors of “The Price They Paid: Desegregation in an African-American Community.” In their work, the Morrises follow one African-American community from school segregation to desegregation. The book contrasts the caring and nurturing African-American school with the hostile new environment in the new predominantly white American school.

The last event for the day will begin with a collegiate gospel choir program, at 7 p.m., in Watkins Auditorium. Following will be a keynote presentation by the Rev. Lawson. The Civil Rights Paper Competition winners will recognized at this event.

On Feb. 27, the conference will close with an evening of music and spoken word in Watkins Auditorium beginning at 6:30 p.m. The UT Martin English honor society, Sigma Tau Delta, will present a spoken word performance, followed by two UT Martin music majors, Joseph Sam and Stephen Hughes, presenting a musical composition on the Civil Rights Movement. At 7:15, the Memphis spoken word group, Brotha’s Keeper, will close out the event.

For information, complete schedule or reservations, call 731-881-7465 or e-mail Dr. David Barber, conference director, at . The conference schedule can be found at


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