Last updated on March 16, 2016
By: Preston Neal, Staff Writer
(Pictured on the left from left to right: Civil Rights veterans Leo Lillard, Matthew Walker. Photo by Preston Neal.)
Volunteer State Community College hosted a program for Civil Rights Veterans on Feb. 25, in the Rochelle Center at 12:45 p.m.
Two veterans of the Nashville Civil Rights movement, Leo Lillard and Matthew Walker, were interviewed regarding their experiences and involvement with the movement.
The Rochelle Center was nearly full to its maximum capacity with students, faculty, and staff. The program began with a short clip from the documentary series “Ain’t Scared of Your Jails”, which can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.
The video clip featured footage from 1960-1961, introducing the veterans as valued members of the Nashville movement.
Following the video clip, the interviewer posed the question “How old were each of you when you realized that you were living in a segregated society?”
Lillard answered with the memory of being unable to use public restrooms, and being forced to go to an alley. Walker replied with childhood memories of being forced to ride in the back of buses, or even having to stand if a white person wanted his seat.
By their late teens, Lillard and Walker had become followers of Jim Lawson, an African-American man studying at Vanderbilt University. Under his tutelage, Lillard, Walker and other young African-American men, were trained in the methods of non-violent protest.
By Feb. 1960, Lillard and Walker were performing sit-ins in downtown Nashville in large numbers.
The initial sit-ins did not attract much attention, but on Feb. 27, 1960, the third sit-in, a group of white men assaulted some of the students participating in the sit-in, causing them serious harm.
The police were notified, and the victims of the crime were arrested instead of the perpetrators.
This incident served as a catalyst, igniting the movement further and drawing in larger number of participants.
“Our nation was built on sacrifice,” said Lillard, “Sacrifice always engenders a reason for hope.” Once the Nashville movement gained momentum, it became a force to be reckoned with.
“Our mantra was ‘If not us, then who? If not now, then when?’ and once you get started, it ignites the whole city,” Lillard said.
Lillard and Walker also came into contact with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, when he visited the Nashville movement.
“Dr. King came to Nashville not to give inspiration, but to get inspiration, because the Nashville movement was so profound,” said Lillard.
Following the program, students, faculty, and staff were permitted to ask questions.
Students and staff inquired about topics such as today’s social injustices, and the various threats of violence made against the movement.