The following essay is from VOCL: A Voice of Catholic Laity (Vol. 1, No. 3), a publication of the Catholic Racial Justice Collaborative, and was written by Lisa Burks.
Women’s History Month is a celebration of women’s contributions to our society and has been observed annually in the month of March since 1987. It is a time to reflect on the often overlooked roles and achievements made by women in all areas of social and scientific development and leadership. Such leadership was demonstrated by many women during the Civil Rights era, even if their names are less familiar.
One such leader was Diane Nash. Born and raised Catholic in Chicago, her family shielded her as much as possible from the direct impact of racism. It was when she attended Fisk University and experienced the restrictions of Jim Crow that she became involved in the work of Civil Rights.
As one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, she led numerous protests and sit-ins to press for desegregation of public accommodations and to advocate for employment opportunities for African Americans. She endured arrest and prosecution for her efforts. Nash recruited youth participation in the Freedom Riders campaign, vowing to complete this challenge to state segregation of interstate transportation after firebombs threatened to suspend the direct action. Nash and her then-husband, James Bevel, are credited as the architects of the Selma voters’ rights movement. In response to the deaths of four young girls in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, they drafted the initial plans of the march from Selma to Montgomery. She was among the marchers on Bloody Sunday.
Nash was a recipient of the Distinguished American Award from the John F. Kennedy Library and Foundation in 2003. The following year, she received the LBJ Award of Leadership in Civil Rights from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. She has been awarded honorary doctorates from Fisk University and the University of Notre Dame. [She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in July 2022.] Diane Nash’s unwavering commitment to the cause of Civil Rights and nonviolent direct action continues to this day.