Nashville, Tennessee, was at the forefront of the modern Civil Rights Movement (1954-1964). Following the desegregation of Nashville's public schools beginning in 1957, it was students at the city's predominantly black universities that led the way in nonviolent protest. Students held lunch counter sit-ins beginning in 1960 and participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961. The success of this dynamic local movement was due in part to the collective action of students and residents and the intentional leadership training program based upon nonviolence. Nashville's student leaders went on to impact the Civil Rights Movement across the country.
The public artwork Witness Walls is designed to honor these events and peoples who fought for racial equality here in Nashville and continue the conversation about social justice and equity in our community. The artwork is located on the west side of the Historic Metro Nashville Courthouse, steps away from the site of the April 19, 1960 student-led protest that led then-Mayor Ben West to disavow segregation of Nashville's lunch counters. A dedication event was held on Friday, April 21, 2017.
"My Witness" Podcasts
As part of the Witness Walls project, Metro Arts is pleased to announce the “My Witness” podcast series. "My Witness" is a collaboration with One Voice Nashville facilitated by storyteller and narrative journalist Mary Margaret Randall. The 20-minute podcasts feature intergenerational interviews pairing seven Metro Nashville high school students with Nashville Civil Rights activists. In one additional podcast, artist Walter Hood discusses his inspirations and hopes for how people will experience Witness Walls.
Stay connected with us on social media so you will not miss any of the podcasts. Below, you can access short clips of unreleased interviews.
NOTE: Many of the podcasts recount difficult and sometimes violent events. Several podcasts use historic terms that are not used today. For this reason, adults are encouraged to pre-screen the podcasts and review them together with young listeners.
"My Witness" Week 1
"The Most Successful Civil Rights Movement"
Westley Dunn (Hillsboro High School) interviews Linda T. Wynn
Isabella Killius (Hume-Fogg High School) interviews Ola Hudson
The Reluctant Desegregation of Nashville Public Schools
Cassius Smith (Overton High School) interviews Canzada Hawkins
On the Job Training at the Lunch Counter Sit-Ins
Doneisha Wells (Maplewood High School) interviews Frankie Henry
Sit-Ins and Freedom Rides Reveal the Power of Nonviolence
Clarkston Ellerby (Hume-Fogg High School) interviews Rip Patton
"If You Can't Tell Them Why You Are Marching, Get Out of the Line"
Gabby Depalo (Hume-Fogg High School) interviews Vencen Horsley
Passing on the Lessons of Civil Rights Activism
Danny Harp (Nashville Big Picture High School) interviews Howard Gentry
How Artists Contribute to Conversations about Civil Rights
Genevieve Jean-Pierre (MLK Jr. High School) interviews Walter Hood
Witness Walls Video
Witness Walls Lesson Plans
Public artworks can be an outstanding teaching tool in the classroom. Witness Walls, inspired by Nashville's history, is a creative way to explore a wide range of topics. In 2014, Metro Arts partnered with the Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation to work with local educators to develop these resources. These lesson plans are customizable for middle and high school students and cover a range of subjects.
Ayers Institute's Witness Walls based lesson plans (external link)
Experience the Artwork
Witness Walls is located at Public Square Park, next to the Historic Metro Courthouse at 1 Public Square. Parking is available at metered spots nearby and at the Metro Courthouse/Public Square Park Garage, an underground parking garage accessible by James Robertson Parkway and Gay Street. The artwork is located in the northwest corner of Public Square Park, directly west of the Historic Metro Courthouse. The artwork site is wheelchair accessible. Shaded seating is available at four benches surrounding the artwork.
At the artwork site, there is a plaque identifying the artwork and explaining Nashville's critical role in the Civil Rights movement. If you arrive at the artwork site at ten minutes before the hour, you will hear songs one might have heard on the radio in Nashville. Music was a powerful voice in the struggle for civil rights, reflecting the times and providing motivation to its listeners.