Interview with John Lewis


John Lewis:

Well, it was early one morning about six o'clock. Z. Alexander Looby, who had been a strong supporter and defender of civil rights, a member of the City Council, the first black member of the City Council in the City of Nashville, was a NAACP legal defense fund lawyer, he had been the legal counsel for all of the students that had participated in the sit-in, had brought some of the original school desegregation cases, had worked with Thurgood Marshall. We heard that his house had been bombed and all across the city on the different college campuses, we had a similar reaction—to call a meeting of the Nashville Central Committee. The Central Committee was the executive committee of the Nashville student nonviolent movement. By, I would say, between six-thirty and seven o'clock, we were meeting. Shortly after seven we had sent the Mayor a telegram saying to the Mayor that we would have a march on City Hall, and the Mayor was Ben West, was the Mayor's name, to protest the bombing of Alexander Looby's house. By noon we had more than 5,000 students from Tennessee State, Fisk University, American Baptist Theological Seminary, Meharry, and Vanderbilt, and people from the community, with a sense of righteous indignation. It was not a noisy march. It was very orderly and people marched in twos. It was a long march, but it was, was one of the most beautiful effort on the part of the, the student community and the people of Nashville to say to the, to the Mayor, say to the business community that we wanted to protest the bombing, but we wanted to see the City of Nashville become a desegregated city, an open city. And I'll never forget that day when we met at, at City Hall, Diane Nash, as the chairperson of the Nashville student movement met the Mayor when he walked out to greet all of us. And she said something like, "Mr. Mayor, do you favor desegregation of the lunch counters?" And he said something like, "Yes, yes, young lady. I favor desegregation of the lunch counter. It's left up to the businessmen." And the Montgomery Advertiser, which is a, I guess a progressive, moderate newspaper in, in Nashville in, in the South, carried a banner headline the next day saying something to the effect, "Mayor Favor Desegregation of the Lunch Counters." And from that day on, it was down road, I guess you, if it, it was a easy task for us to, to negotiate with the merchants, with the Chamber of Commerce to end segregation at all of the lunch counters, in drugstores and variety stores, the five and ten, and most of the restaurants in downtown Nashville. But it was not…