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We Shall Not be Moved – The 50th Anniversary of Tennessee’s Civil Rights Sit-ins

We Shall Not Be Moved, a traveling exhibition developed by the Tennessee State Museum, provides an intimate look at the role Tennessee students played in shaping the modern Civil Rights Movement. Although civil rights history rightfully focuses on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the stories of unsung heroes has remained largely untold. This exhibit lifts these important “foot soldiers” into their rightful place in history, telling their story through relevant artifacts, powerful photographic images, and exciting audio-visual media. Visitors will come away with an understanding of African-American life during Jim Crow that provided the background for the sit-ins, how students were recruited and organized for the purpose of non-violent protest, and how their efforts facilitated permanent social change. We Shall Not Be Moved will be on display at the Bessie January 12, 2013 – April 7, 2013.

We Shall Not Be Moved, is divided into four key areas:

1) Segregation and Resistance

This section provides an understanding of the lives of black Tennesseans before and during segregation, showing the tradition of resistance that led to the development of new segregation laws after Reconstruction.

2) Non-Violence

Reverends James Lawson and Kelly Miller Smith held non-violence training workshops in Nashville beginning in 1959. They recruited college students, like Diane Nash, James Bevel, Marion Barry, and John Lewis from Nashville colleges. This group chose mass sit-ins as a strategy to end segregation. Downtown counters were chosen because of the humiliating experiences black women faced while shopping when they could not try on clothes before buying them and could not sit at the lunch counter. 

3) Sitting-In in Tennessee

This section covers the action phase of the sit-in movement. The Nashville students began their sit-ins in what became the model used for sit-ins across the south. Later Nashville became the first southern city to desegregate its downtown counters. Even though Memphis and Chattanooga adopted Nashville-like models, each area exhibited a localized flavor. Uniquely, the Knoxville group was apparently influenced very little by the Nashville template.

4) Direct Action and the Civil Rights Movement

An unusual number of Tennessee students went on to become leaders in the national civil rights struggle. This portion highlights their involvement in later events as the movement progressed to demonstrate the importance of Tennessee in the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these leaders continue to be active even today.