“Who the hell is Diane Nash?”

Who the hell is Diane Nash?” Those words delivered to John Seigenthaler by Attorney General Robert Kennedy in 1961 was not just a question of query and frustration, as Freedom Riders were headed from Nashville to Birmingham, but an introduction to Diane Judith Nash, American civil rights activist, strategist, and all around force to be reckoned with.

As a student at Fisk University in Nashville, TN, Ms. Nash took part in nonviolent training sessions, then became a leader in the Nashville student sit-in movement and was a founding member of SNCC. Her leadership, commitment, and courage also showed during the Freedom Rides when she insisted that the rides continue despite the violence and intimidation. In 1962, after receiving a two-year sentence for encouraging young people in nonviolent direct action, she chose to go to jail rather than accept a plea despite being four months pregnant. As she stated, “This will be a black baby born in Mississippi, and thus wherever he is born he will be in prison…If I go to jail now it may help hasten that day when my child and all children will be free.” She ended up spending ten days in prison before the judge reduced her sentence. Nash was also a key strategist for the Birmingham Campaign, the March on Washington, and the voter registration campaigns around Selma, Alabama.

Continuing her fight for justice, Diane Nash built upon her civil rights movement work by actively opposing the Vietnam War, and has continued to be involved in peace movements. A long-time educator in the Chicago public schools, she has also been a strong supporter of women’s rights, and has organized around tenant and welfare rights issues.