1961 June 16

Freedom Ride Leader Diane Nash Rebuffs AG Robert Kennedy


In a meeting at the Justice Department, Freedom Ride leader Diane Nash on this day rebuffed the effort of Attorney General Robert Kennedy to get her and other young civil rights activists to shift their focus from direct action (such as sit-ins and the Freedom Ride) to voter registration. Kennedy hinted that if they abandoned direct action in favor of voter registration, certain benefits would come their way, such as grants from private foundations. A few members of Nash’s groups were tempted, but most agreed with her on the need to continue the Freedom Ride and other direct action in support of civil rights.

The Freedom Ride, which began on May 4, 1961, encountered major violence in Alabama, including assaults on freedom riders and the burning of a bus in Anniston, Alabama (see May 14, 1961). In response, the original Freedom Ride leaders canceled the ride and flew to New Orleans, their original destination. Sit-in veterans in Nashville, Tennessee, believed they should not capitulate in the face of violence and, led by Nash, organized a continuation of the ride. The John F. Kennedy administration was primarily interested in preventing violence and avoiding more embarrassing news stories.

Watch a video biography of Diane Nash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAG9kABlWaQ

Learn more about the Freedom Ride: Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (2006)

Learn more about Diane Nash: http://www.blackpast.org/aah/nash-diane-judith-1938

Watch a documentary on the Freedom Ride: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66_kqSG6aHI

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