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Nashville Protests Against Repression of Black Community (1968)

Nashville Protests Against Repression of Black Community (1968)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – People here are taking the offensive against attempts to repress the black community-and the power structure is backing down.

Police rampaged through the ghetto for a week in late January, supposedly looking for some men who had killed a policeman (see February Patriot). Their behavior intimidated people-but at the same time it made them determined to resist.

Negro leaders called for an economic withdrawal from downtown stores, to strengthen the black community. Students and militants joined in the drive.

Then three civil-rights organizations held a series of public meetings on police brutality in Nashville-and how it relates to repression across the country. The three groups-SCEF, SNCC and SSOC-have been red-baited in local newspapers and charged with starting the riots here last April; and some people felt that Nashville residents would be afraid to come to any meeting those organizations sponsored.

But more than 300 people attended one meeting, to hear local people describe their experiences at the hands of police; and attorneys William Kunstler and Arthur Kinoy, and Stan Wise of SNCC, discuss what they could do. It was the first such gathering in memory.

The next morning, Nashvillians learned that the National Guard was planning to hold a riot practice in the city March 9. Some 3,000 guardsmen, armed with rifles and bayonets, were to occupy Nashville, particularly potential trouble spots such as the Fisk-A&I University area. The same day, police shot and paralyzed Dan Massie, a SNCC activist.

People began organizing to fight both the police and the Guard.

After pressure from the black community, the Public Safety Committee called a special meeting on police brutality March 1. More than 90 people attended; many testified; and they submitted 16 written affidavits. The committee will invite the police to answer the charges in a few weeks.

The following day, about 400 people marched through downtown Nashville and gathered at the court house to protest police brutality, Negro unemployment and poor housing conditions.

Meantime, opposition to the Guard’s exercises was mounting. A group of Nashville ministers sent telegrams to Mayor Beverly Briley, Governor Buford Ellington, and President Johnson, asking that the exercises be cancelled.

More than 500 people joined as plaintiffs in a suit to prevent the National Guard from carrying out the exercises. They said the Guard’s actions would intimidate people and have a chilling effect on their exercise of First Amendment rights. And they pointed out that by bringing the guard in, officials were violating every recommendation of the National Advisory Council on Civil Disorders.

The suit was filed in federal court March 7. The Judge refused to consider it, saying that the matter was the Governor’s responsibility. But the net effect of the resistance was that the National Guard skulked in a few parks on the outskirts of town, staying barely long enough to eat lunch, and then went home, instead of marching armed through the ghetto, as originally planned.

More resistance is planned.

Source: The Southern Patriot, March 1968

Posted by: skip
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