"Before We Met You, We Loved You": Civil Rights Leader Diane Nash Delivers Levinson History Lecture
"Before We Met You, We Loved You": Civil Rights Leader Diane Nash Delivers Levinson History Lecture
Liz Torrey

We welcomed Civil Rights Movement leader Diane Nash to Engelhard Hall on Friday, October 27, where she delivered St. Andrew's annual Levinson History Lecture. Nash helped to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the most important organizations in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s; was leader of the student sit-in movement in Nashville that desegregated that city's downtown in 1960; organized the Nashville group that took over the Freedom Rides after the attacks in Anniston and Birmingham in 1961; and was a key figure in the Birmingham campaign in 1963 and Selma in 1965—work for which she received the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Rosa Parks Award for Leadership. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called her the "driving spirit in the nonviolent assault on segregation at lunch counters."

"Diane Nash has offered America the highest and most courageous kind of service possible,"said History Department Chair Emily Pressman in her introduction of Nash. "Deeply committed to the power and promise of nonviolence, she has put her life on the line over and over to push this country and her fellow Americans to actually realize and live up to our best ideals and principles. I can't imagine more important service, as a citizen and a patriot, than that. It is the most special privilege—one for which I am so very grateful to the Levinson family—to be able to introduce Ms. Nash, one of my great heroes, to the whole St. Andrew's family tonight."

Nash spoke to a packed hall of students, faculty, and friends, and in her talk shared the ideas behind the American Civil Rights Movement—the philosophy and strategy that undergirded its actions, and how students can apply those ideas to their own work for social change in the 21st century. Using the term "agapic energy" to describe the force behind nonviolent resistance—a term she came up with herself, using the Greek word agape, which means "brotherly love" or "love for humankind"—Nash explained a few of the principals of agapic energy in action. "The first principle is that people are never your enemy," she said. "Unjust systems, unjust economies, attitudes, racism, sexism, ignorance—those are the enemies. If you recognize that people are not the enemy, you can love them and respect that person at the same time that you attack the attitude or the action of that person"

"Another basic principle of non-violence is that oppression always requires the cooperation of the oppressed," Nash continued. "It's a partnership. If the oppressed withdraw their participation from the oppressive system, that system will fail. The day the blacks in Montgomery decided that there would no longer be segregated buses in Montgomery, it took change on the part of the whites. The day the blacks decided there would no longer be segregated buses in Montgomery, there were no longer segregated buses in Montgomery."

Nash also outlined six steps for organizing a successful nonviolent activism campaign for any cause, and, after she concluded to a resounding standing ovation, took questions from students.

"I'd like you to know that our contemporaries had you in mind," Nash said at the close of her talk. "There were a number of times that we knew if we continued marching, there might be a mob, or perhaps the state police. There was a good chance that someone would be killed or seriously injured, and understandably people sometimes got very afraid. On several occasions I recall when someone would burst into tears, super-afraid and freaked out, and the person next to them would put their arm around that person's shoulder and say, 'Remember, what we are doing is important. We are doing this for generations yet unborn.' I'd like you to know that before we met you, we loved you. We were trying to bring about the best society we could for you to be born into and to come of age in. Future generations are going to look to you to do the same."

St. Andrew's Levinson History Lecture was endowed by David N. Levinson '53 P'05 and his family to provide an annual lecture in history, politics, economics or related social science fields. Past lecturers have included Micah Levinson '05, Instructor of Political Science at UNC Chapel Hill; William Casey King, Executive Director of the Yale Center for Analytical Studies; Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council; and Daniel Pipes, President of the Middle East Forum.