Diane Nash is one of the most important icons of the civil rights movement, although her contributions were often overshadowed by more well-known male figures. Though she preferred a low profile and never sought the spotlight, Nash is a living Black heroine who continues to work for equal rights for all.
Nash was born May 15, 1938 and raised primarily in Chicago, Ill. She started her college career at Howard University in Washington, D.C. then transferred to Fisk University in Nashville. In Tennessee, Nash experienced the impact of racism for the first time.
It led her to become a co-founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, better known as SNCC. The group formed in 1960 under the guidance of NAACP leader Ella Baker. Nash and other student activists led the first successful lunch counter integration in Nashville.
That triumph led to SNCC organizing the Freedom Rides to integrate interstate buses in the Deep South in 1961. That same year, she married Rev. James Bevel and the pair relocated to Jackson, Miss. to work on voter registration and school desegregation.
When SNCC began working with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Nash helped negotiate between the groups. Nash was an instrumental figure in the Selma voting rights movement. She and Bevel helped organize young people willing to follow the non-violent creed of the two organizations.
During the events of March 7, 1965, better known as “Bloody Sunday,” Nash was on the front lines as marchers attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge into Montgomery. Nash is also credited as the person who kept the Freedom Rides going after a bus was set on fire in Anniston, Alabama and Riders were advised to stop because the rides had become too dangerous.
Nash and Bevel won the SCLC Freedom Medal in 1965 shortly after the passage of the Voting Rights Act by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Nash remains an active lecturer who reminds listeners that the acts of Bloody Sunday and the fight for voting rights was just a short time ago in American history.
In Ava DuVernay’s celebrated Selma film, Nash is played by actress Tessa Thompson. Bevel is played by rapper/actor Lonnie “Common” Lynn.