John Seigenthaler and Howard Gentry Jr. — two Nashvillians who were instrumental in the civil rights struggle — spoke to Lipscomb students as part of the observance of Black History Month.
Seigenthaler, former editor and publisher of the Tennessean, worked as an adviser to Robert Kennedy and also covered the civil rights strugglet throughout the South. He was present at many of the sit-ins and white reactions.
Growing up on the other side of the issue, Seigenthaler said he had to be educated on the struggles of African-Americans.
“Martin Luther King had to expose it however he could and he had to dramatize it,” Seigenthaler said.
He spoke of the freedom riders and Diane Nash leading the sit-ins in Nashville. He recalled the Ku Klux Klan attack in Alabama, perhaps the worst reaction of the nonviolent protests by African Americans. In Montogomery, Ala., Seigenthaler was hit in the head with a pipe and rushed to the hospital.
Seigenthaler was with Robert Kennedy when he made his famous speech announcing the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. He remembered being the note taker when the two men first met.
Gentry, the first African-American to be Vice Mayor of Nashville, grew up in segregated Nashville. His youth was filled with separate water fountains and second-hand textbooks. He was not allowed at the public swimming pool.
Gentry said that his parents were the hopeful voice in his life. They taught him patience and hope for the future. He even remembered talking about John Seigenthaler in his home growing up.
“There were people in the world that cared. And we will overcome, and they will help us find a way,” Gentry said.
Seigenthaler felt the same about people who came to Nashville for nonviolent protests to civil rights.
“They disturbed this city; more than that—the city conscience,” Seigenthaler said.
We have Tenielle Buchanan from the Office of Multicultural Affairs to thank for bringing these two great men to campus. She knew that their stories were what Lipscomb students needed to hear.
“Look what they’ve done to advance progression,” she said. “ I believe in making what they did influential to us and motivating us to actively make change.”
Gentry and Seigenthaler are two people who helped shape history through their participation in the Civil Rights movement during a time that greatly impacted where we as a nation are today.
Howard Gentry, Jr. knows that it didn’t stop all the problems, and the next generation must step up and take action.
“We are not able to handle diversity within ourselves,” he said. “Though we have come a long way, we have a long way to go.”
Video by Heather Gleason