Civil Rights and a Civil Society

The Stories behind The Room at Nashville Public Library

In Their Words

Students from Nashville’s Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School were recently invited to our Civil Rights Room to participate in a unique and compelling exercise. They were asked to choose one of the following six topics: race, age, gender, identity, class, and social justice. The students were then asked to spend three minutes walking around the Room to ponder what they saw through the lens of their chosen word.

These are their words…

  • “Judge me not in the past, but in the future.”


  • “Not every white American is racist. The flag says we’re equal. But are we?”


  • “My black race makes me stronger.”


  • “Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I can’t be in power.”


  • “Is my son next?”


  • “My identity does not mean I’m violent.”


  • “Just because we don’t have the same skin doesn’t mean we are not the same.”


  • “I’m black, not a target.”


  • “Just because I’m free doesn’t mean I’m really free.”


  • “Imagination is the key to a great nation.”


  • “I wouldn’t fight for it if it didn’t mean something to me.”


  • “Just because I’m a young black man doesn’t make me a threat.”


Below is a list of excerpts we’ve compiled from the subsequent speeches they wrote before their experience in the Room:


  • “I have a dream that when I’m a mother, my black child will be safe. I have a dream that my son will not fear walking down the street. I am passionate about this because my children will be black citizens. We can start showing that just because we are black does not mean that we rob, gangbang, rape, fight, live on wellfare, wear weaves, etc. I have strong feelings about this because we are a smart people; we are powerful. We are beautiful kings and queens. I want my children to know that. I want them to know that being black does not mean we are hopeless, lost, and damaged people.”

– Tamalria Santos


  • “We, the People refuse to sit back and let Dr. King’s dream and work fade into thin air. We refuse to let the white man’s law enforcers kill our well-educated black men just because they are black. I have a dream that one day the color of your skin will not define what your job is or where you are supposed to work. I have a dream that one day the people of the world will be at peace and not discriminate against each other.”

– Anthony Lindsley


  • “I have a dream that one day our nation will not hate the gay community, but instead treat them like any other human being. I have a dream that one day the gay community will be treated right and with respect. I have a dream that one day our people will realize that judging someone by their gender isn’t right.”

– Kenzie Bandy


  • “I have a dream to have a beautiful black family. I’ll have a handsome black husband and some beautiful black children; but I fear that my black son or my black husband might be at the wrong place at the wrong time, or might just look suspicious to a cop and won’t make it home to me. I have a dream that one day racism will be dead. We will be able to live free without hatred and without being scared that our black sons and husbands won’t make it home.”

-Clarissa Blevins


  • “Why be scared of a person who puts his pants on just like you? No one is born hating another person because of the color of their skin, or their background or religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than does its opposite. I have a dream that one day this nation will accept its mistakes and learn from the harsh trials its been through. I have a dream that one day this nation will learn to not to judge, and instead learn to love.”

– Kavarious Finch


  • “I am proud of who I have become in this world. Are you? What I am not proud of is how the ones who are here to protect us are the ones killing us. I have a dream that one day this nation will be together and stand as one. I have a dream that one day people won’t be arrested for the color of their skin before they are arrested for any crime they’ve committed. When this happens, America will stand as one and will work together; and when that happens, then we can make America great.”

– Shayne Thompson


  • “It’s hard to believe that things that happened in the past still exist. I have found memories of sadness in people’s eyes. Imagine our poor fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers who worked so hard to make America the way it is today. I have a dream that every lonely child will find a friend who loves them the way they are. I have a dream that we will learn how to listen half as well as we judge. I also have a dream that we will all be recognized as the storyteller and not just the listener.”

– Kadia Gbla



“Witness Walls”

Photo courtesy of Metro Arts’ website.

The heavily anticipated Witness Walls art piece is set to be dedicated to the public on April 21, 2017 in Nashville’s Public Square Park.

Back in October 2016, Metro Arts broke ground at the Public Square Park space for this unique exhibit, which is meant to commemorate Nashville’s Civil Rights veterans and their iconic struggle for equality. The Walls themselves will be located on the west side of the Nashville Courthouse, just a few feet away from the physical site of the monumental student-led, nonviolent protest of April 19, 1960; the very protest which led to the desegregation of Nashville’s lunch counters.

Using concrete and graphite technology, artist Walter Hood is creating life-sized impressions of the historic protests and marches that took place right here in Music City. While the faces will be too abstract to pinpoint any specific individuals, the images used to inspire the piece came from none other than our collection of black-and-white photographs at the Civil Rights Room in Nashville Public Library.

Visitors to the site will be able to walk amidst these textured walls and listen to period music as they observe the shadows of past events and people who worked tirelessly and sacrificially in the name of Civil Rights through lunch counter sit-ins, economic boycotts, marches, meetings, Freedom Rides, and school desegregation.

Walter Hood, originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, is now a Professor and former Chair of Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. He also runs his own studio: Hood Design Studio in Oakland. For more information about him and other exhibits he may have coming up, please visit his website.

Walter Hood. (Photo courtesy of Metro Arts’ website.)


Mayor Barry’s Address to MLK Academic Magnet School Students inside the Civil Rights Room

Photo taken by Metro Photographer

53 seniors from Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet School came to the Civil Rights Room for a day of research and inquiry on September 21 as part of their capstone project entitled Segregated Nashville.

After going through an in-depth overview  of Nashville’s rich Civil Rights history, students were allowed to conduct research independently using rare sources such as our Oral Histories Collection, photographic images, ephemera,  and bio files. They had the opportunity to retell the many rich stories in order to fully grasp what happened during the Civil Rights Movement right here in our city.

Congressman John Lewis
Congressman John Lewis

Afterwards, the students were privileged to get to hear directly from Nashville’s Mayor Megan Barry concerning Congressman John Lewis and his book March.

Congressman Lewis is not only an iconic Nashville Civil Rights activist, but he is now also the Nashville Public Library’s 2016 Literary Award honoree, as well as the Library’s featured author for Nashville Reads 2017. His graphic novel March highlights Congressman Lewis’ extensive leadership roles during the Civil Rights Movement and is now being read in high schools across the country.

While addressing the students at the Civil Rights Room, Mayor Barry encouraged them all to attend Congressman Lewis’ free book signing and discussion on November 19 at 10:00 a.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet School’s campus. This event is open to the public and is free to everyone.

Mayor Barry also left time to give the high school seniors an opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns about issues important to them and their communities in Nashville.

The Truth Booth: “What’s your truth?”

On July 15 – 16, the downtown branch of the Nashville Public Library and the Special Collections Center brought a uniquely interactive art exhibit into the main lobby. This huge piece is called the Truth Booth and has been traveling around the world for five years now.

The Truth Booth


The life-sized, inflatable air-bubble provided a fun, safe environment for the people of Nashville to step inside and tell their truths. Once inside the Truth Booth, visitors were given two minutes of video time to give a personal testimony, ending with “the truth is…”

As Nashville becomes more diversely populated, creative outlets like the Truth Booth are becoming key ways for this community to wrestle with the concept of truth. The Nashville Public Library and the Special Collections Center strive to keep the story of Nashville going through the archiving of specific and individual testimonies, just like the ones recorded this summer in the Truth Booth.

The Nashville Public Library was not only the first public library to have hosted the booth, but also the first location in the South to have had such a privilege.


Storytelling with Big Data

Big Data.

These two words have created a hot debate topic in recent years. For good and responsible researchers, however, learning how to harness and channel the amount of valuable information we can now gain access to through Big Data is not only ethical, but it’s also essential to progress, advancement, and learning. The Nashville Library is a good place for future professionals to practice such skills.

As part of their ongoing partnership with Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, the Special Collections Center welcomed around 30 middle school and high school students from the community for a two-day workshop in July for the purpose of using Big Data to research their family history and genealogy. Facilitators aided the young scholars as they immersed themselves in activities like interviewing parents, researching ancestors, and thinking critically about how to use Big Data to trace their roots. They turned to sources such as the census and World Health Organization documents in order to pinpoint overall migration and social patterns. Students were then able to use their datasets to either challenge or confirm narratives they had been told as to why their ancestors and families immigrated. By the end of the workshop, they were given the opportunity to  invite their family members in for participant-created presentations on their research findings. The event became an interactive celebration of family, culture, and education.

Gathering such detailed knowledge through Big Data research equipped these students with a better understanding of how life was different for their grandparents and great-grandparents, and how choices made generations ago are still impacting their lives today. They walked away with a better grasp on where they came from and a broader comprehension of how their families’ stories fit into larger national – and even global – trends.

Make no mistake, Peabody College’s partnership with the Special Collections Center is not limited to this summer’s Storytelling with Big Data workshop; Special Collections often works alongside Peabody’s graduate students in Education for the purpose of helping them develop a deeper understanding of out-of-classroom learning. For example, two such graduate classes recently came together to visit our Civil Rights Room with the objective of experiencing the space from the perspective of a young student. Another such class is using primary sources from our Civil Rights Collection to create walking tours around Nashville that will showcase the power of human migration and movement.

We are committed to continue working with these scholars to help train and equip our community’s young people, both at the library and for their future careers.


Students at Storytelling with Big Data summer workshop

Estamos Aquí: Voces Contemporáneos (We Are Here: Contemporary Voices) Closing Reception

On April 2, 2016, our division hosted a day of art-making, dancing, food, and music to commemorate the closing of Estamos Aquí: Voces Contemporáneos (We Are Here: Contemporary Voices) exhibit. This exhibit featured artwork from 14 Latin American artists from across Tennessee. Many of the artists attended the reception to discuss their work. Artists involved in the show include: Rafael Casco (Honduras), Antuco Chicaiza (Ecuador), Yuri Figueroa (Mexico), Orlando Garcia-Camacho (Colombia), Angel Olegario Luna (Mexico), Jorge Mendoza (Bolivia), Zoilita Mojica (Colombia), Jairo Prado (Colombia), Danielle Sierra (Mexican Heritage), Julie Sola (Mexican Heritage), Ivan Soto (Honduras), Ruben Torres (Mexico), Yancy Villa-Calvo (Mexico), and Jorge Yances (Colombia).

The schedule of events was as follows:

  • Family art-making inspired by exhibit – 9:30am, Children’s Arts and Crafts
  • Family Zumba – 10:30am, Puppet Theater
  • Art-making in the Lobby with Jairo Prado – 1:30 pm, Lobby
  • Teen Mural Painting with Jorge Mendoza – All day with artist talk at 1:30pm
  • Art-making with Ruben Torres – 1:30pm, Banner Room
  • Reception (Artists present) – 2-4pm, Courtyard Galler

This amazing exhibit was closed on April 3 after a great response from the community so we sent it off in style! Both the exhibit and reception were part of the year-long project, Estamos Aquí: 500 Years of Latino American History, and were made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association.

For more information about the project, visit:

Below is a photo gallery of collected memories from the event:

Civil Rights and a Civil Society Training Sessions

Police Training in the Civil Rights Room

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” 

-John Lewis, Nashville Civil Rights activist


The Civil Rights Room of Nashville Main Public Library hosted yet another Civil Rights and a Civil Society training session on March 28, 2016.

In Tennessee, law enforcement officers have turned to our rich archive on the Civil Rights Movement at Nashville Main Public Library to learn about past injustices and hopefully prevent future injustices and misconceptions from occurring. Our Civil Rights Room provides the perfect setting for just such programs and training sessions.

By discussing the complexities of our perceptions, as well as the traditional narrative of the aggressive relationship between law enforcement and civil rights activists of the 1960’s, we have made a space for healthy dialogue in a city historically plagued by racial tensions. Because Nashville is rapidly diversifying, these are critical conversations to have for our local law enforcement and authority figures.

The goal of these conversations is to foster cultural sensitivity and awareness that informs present and future interactions between law enforcement, authority figures, and civilians in our community. The training sessions model for participants how to create an inclusive environment in which each member of the community is valued, respected, and given opportunities to fully contribute their talents.

SWAG Forum: How men of color are perceived in the Americas and why

Vanderbilt Professor of English Ifeoma Nwankwo, College of the Holy Cross Professor of History Rosa Carrasquillo, and Vanderbilt PhD student of religion Terrance Dean served as the three panel members for SWAG: a forum hosted by Civil Rights and a Civil Society in Nashville Main Public Library.

The presentation and subsequent Q&A session was held Saturday, February 27, 2016 and focused on the perception of African American and Latino males in today’s pop culture and examined where such perceptions come from historically.

Below is a short 6-minute video recap and some photos for those who could not make it out:

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