The day began with a tour led by Ernest “Rip” Patton around the city of Nashville. Mr. Patton was a student at Tennessee State University in 1961 when he became a part of the Nashville movement. As we drove along the city streets, he pointed out the places that were important in the movement, and the places that held his memories of struggle for civil rights in Nashville. This tour around the city would set the stage for the remainder of the day.
A memorable and touching moment for me was driving by an alley in downtown Nashville. Mr. Patton shared with us that the alley was the place where they ate food they were permitted to purchase from a nearby restaurant. They ate in the alley because the restaurant was white only. This alley was the same place they went to urinate because they were unable to use white bathrooms. I felt like I could almost see them there in that alley. I think we all felt emotional driving by the alley. I wish they weren’t treated like that. I wanted to be able to go back in time, march into that restaurant, and demand they change their ways. While obviously unable to change their history, I am not sure I would have been strong enough. I could only hope that if presented with a situation like that, I could have the strength to stand up for what is right. These questions about my inner strength help shape my immense respect for the movement veterans.
As we continued on, Mr. Patton also directed our attention to a Walgreens. He informed us that it was the first integrated store in Nashville. Back in that time, drug stores had lunch counters. It was really amazing to sit in front of that store knowing its important history and to see it still standing. As I watched people come in and out of the store, I thought about their lack of awareness. I doubt they had any knowledge that they were walking in and out of history. I know now, after beginning this experience and studying the Movement, I will never be one of those people again. I will never go back to being complacent. I think we all feel like we have to carry on the legacy of the Movement.
All the students broke off into groups and dined at local restaurants for lunch. I as well as some of my fellow students had the incredible opportunity to eat with Mr. Patton at Subway. We all sat wide-eyed and fully focused on the movement veteran as he told us stories about his participation in Nashville. One student noted the diverse backgrounds that filled our table. She expressed her realization and frustration that during the Movement, we wouldn’t have been able to eat together. That thought had never crossed my mind. I never thought twice about what we were doing. This just goes to show how we take this right for granted. Mr. Patton, as well as the other participants in the movement, fought for this right. Because of them we were in that Subway together.
It is only day one and it has already been such an emotional journey.