Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jacqueline A. Rouse - Committee Chair

Second Advisor

Clifford Kuhn - Committee Member

Third Advisor

Vicki Crawford - Committee Member


The Nashville Civil Rights Movement was one of the most dynamic local movements of the early 1960s, producing the most capable student leaders of the period 1960 to 1965. Despite such a feat, the historical record has largely overlooked this phenomenon. What circumstances allowed Nashville to produce such a dynamic movement whose youth leadership of John Lewis, Diane Nash, Bernard LaFayette, and James Bevel had no parallel? How was this small cadre able to influence movement developments on local and a national level? In order to address these critical research questions, standard historical methods of inquiry will be employed. These include the use of secondary sources, primarily Civil Rights Movement histories and memoirs, scholarly articles, and dissertations and theses. The primary sources used include public lectures, articles from various periodicals, extant interviews, numerous manuscript collections, and a variety of audio and video recordings. No original interviews were conducted because of the availability of extensive high quality interviews. This dissertation will demonstrate that the Nashville Movement evolved out of the formation of independent Black churches and college that over time became the primary sites of resistance to racial discrimination, starting in the Nineteenth Century. By the late 1950s, Nashville’s Black college attracted the students who became the driving force of a local movement that quickly established itself at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. Nashville’s forefront status was due to an intentional leadership training program based upon nonviolence. As a result of the training, leaders had a profound impact upon nearly every major movement development up to 1965, including the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the birth of SNCC, the emergence of Black Power, the direction of the SCLC after 1962, the thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Birmingham campaign, and the Selma voting rights campaign. In addition, the Nashville activists helped eliminate fear as an obstacle to Black freedom. These activists also revealed new relationship dynamics between students and adults and merged nonviolent direct action with voter registration, a combination considered incompatible.

Included in

History Commons