“This is going to be one of those artifacts that will help us to understand where we’re going and where we’ve been.”
Fisk President Vann Newkirk spoke at an event to celebrate the induction of a broken civil rights plaque into a permanent exhibit in the Special Collections and Archives area of the university’s Hope and Franklin library.
The plaque was destroyed in June 2020 when over 10,000 people protested downtown in response to the killing of George Floyd. Although the event started out peaceful, violence eventually broke out.
Some attacked the Metro Courthouse building and toppled the civil rights plaque. The pieces were then used to destroy the building’s windows, specifically in the offices of Mayor John Cooper and Deputy Mayor of Community Engagement Brenda Haywood.
Everything about Fisk’s dedication was symbolic and intentional, including the date. The event was held on April 19, 2022. On April 19, 1960, the home of Z. Alexander Looby was bombed. The bombing prompted a protest at the Metro Courthouse. There, Fisk student Diane Nash and former Mayor Ben West had an exchange in which he publicly condemned segregation in Nashville.
On April 19, 1995, the plaque was dedicated to commemorate the 1960 desegregation of Nashville. Diane Nash was in attendance to celebrate its commemoration and her role in the installment of the plaque. Now, on the same date in 2022, a dedication ceremony was held to memorialize the continued history of the plaque.
The event’s speakers included the mayor, Newkirk, and other local and university leaders. The legacy of the plaque, Fisk, Nashville’s civil rights movement, and the future of racial equality were common themes in every speech.
“I find that it’s very important that we remember the past and that these artifacts are not stored and put away, but things that we use to remember the past,” Newkirk said.
“While we as Nashvillians have come far, we have not come far enough. We have much work still to do,” said Napier-Looby Bar Association president I’Ashea Myles.
The university hopes the exhibit will help bring more awareness to Fisk and the instrumental role it played in the civil rights movement. Additionally, the university hopes this new artifact will help attract prospective students who want to attend a school with such a rich legacy.
According to Fisk’s assistant director of library services DeLisa Harris, this piece of history helps to directly connect Fisk to the desegregation movement. She hopes the pieces will bring more of the Nashville community to visit Fisk’s library.
For current students, having the plaque at their school is a reminder of the impactful role Fisk played in the civil rights movement.
“Having this plaque here is one of those reinforcers that I’m walking the grounds as the same people who broke a lot of rules and made a lot of things happen here,” said Loveli Fowlkes, a Fisk freshman.
Deputy Mayor Haywood said she was in shock as she watched rioters destroy her office. She wondered if they realized the significance of the plaque.
“It saddened me because I remember when that plaque went up. I remember why it went up,” she said. “I remember the blood, sweat and tears that were encapsulated in that plaque and the different people like Diane Nash and John Lewis and the significance they had on my life.”
Plans for the construction of a new plaque are in the works. It is the hope of people like the deputy mayor and other local leaders that the new memorial emphasizes the importance of the plaque and gives hope for a brighter future for civil rights in Nashville.
For now, the public can visit the broken pieces at their new home in the Special Collections and Archives exhibit in Fisk’s library.