Veteran civil rights leader to visit Walla Walla

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WALLA WALLA — An influential engine of the civil rights movement will visit Walla Walla this month as part of Whitman College’s commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Although she was never a household name in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s to end segregation, racially targeted voting laws and bring equal rights to minorities, Diane Nash led some of the movement’s most influential and successful protests.

Among them were the Nashville, Tenn., lunch counter sit-ins and her participation in the Freedom Riders, a group of students and activists who traveled through an often hostile South to promote desegregation.

Nash also co-founded the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and served on a national committee that helped bring about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Her relative anonymity was one of the things Whitman found interesting, said Matt Ozuna, the college’s interim director for Intercultural Programs and Services.

“Diane Nash — (she’s) kind of Dr. King and Rosa Parks,” he said. “Not only is she one of the few Civil Rights leaders left from the 1960s, but she’s one of the ones that might not be in all the history books.”

Nash will be on campus for two days. On Jan. 29 she will give a closed Nonviolent Resistance and Campaigning workshop to students from area colleges. On Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. she will give a public lecture about her experiences in the Civil Rights Movement.

“This is very special for us,” Ozuna said of Nash doing a lecture and a workshop. Ozuna said a student demonstration against racism and sexism on campus in November helped persuade Nash to do both events.

“Usually she does one or the other,” Ozuna said, “but for her to do both in one visit is very gracious.”

Preceding Nash’s visit, the college will hold a march and candlelight vigil at 4 p.m. Monday, the federal holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and a screening of the documentary “Freedom Riders” on Thursday. Several local organizations also will host community service projects.

The march begins at Whitman’s Reid Campus Center and goes to the intersection of First Avenue and Main Street, where a candlelight vigil will be held before marchers return to Reid.

Ozuna said between 200 and 300 marchers turned up last year, and he hopes for similar numbers this year.

“We want to encourage other Walla Walla community members to attend, as well,” Ozuna said. “All Walla Walla community members, regardless of background or belief, they’re all welcome.”

Walla Walla University also will hold several events Monday in honor of the slain civil rights leader. A public screening of “White Like Me,” a film about white privilege and modern racism will be held at 7 p.m. in Village Hall. The Seventh-day Adventist university also will hold a special Martin Luther King Jr. Day service at 11 a.m.

“It’s the only federal holiday in which community service is dedicated,” Ozuna said. “It’s more than the civil rights movements for African-Americans; it’s about rights for all Americans ...

“It’s about coming together as a community and giving back to the ‘beloved community,’ Dr. King’s ‘beloved community,’ and those are the same values that we have at Whitman.”

Ben Wentz can be reached at benwentz@wwub.com or 526-8315.

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