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We Shall Overcome

We Shall Overcome Poetic Witness to Civil Rights Era Nashville Vol. 1 “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” – James Baldwin

The world broke in 2020. Students enrolled in the Spring semester of Creative Writing Poetry at Tennessee State University were resolved to pick up the pieces. Our pursuit for understanding sent us deep into Nashville’s Civil Rights past. And though our efforts began before the tragic death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 that pointed the world toward change, we have found the process of researching the leaders, protests, and revolutions of the 1960s timely and useful in illuminating the pathway forward. It is our earnest hope that this project will serve as an insightful contribution to the climb toward racial equality. The conception of this anthology began with collaborations between TSU’s English and Art Departments and was inspired by an exhibition organized by and presented at the Frist Art Museum. The Frist partnered with Vanderbilt University Press to co-publish an Like a giant serpent, the line of black college accompanying book We Shall Overcome: Press demonstrators wends its way around the courthouse Photographs of Nashville in the Civil Rights Era. The area, coming out from Jefferson Street and James publication features 100 photographic plates from the Robertson Boulevard April 19, 1960. The demonstrators, archives of The Tennessean and The Nashville Banner. on the day of the Z. Alexander Looby bombing, marching The collection is complete with contextual essays, an three abreast stretched 10 blocks. Eldred Reaney/ The informative timeline, comprehensive captions, a biography, Tennesean. Courtesy of We Shall Overcome: Press and a foreword from Congressman John Lewis. Many of Photographs of Nashville in the Civil Rights Era. the images and captions included this poetry anthology were drawn from the Frist publication. As a class, we studied the Frist timeline and were captivated by the many events related to education. We narrowed our poetic response focus down to the following five subjects: James Lawson, Civil Rights Icon; Nashville public school desegregation by first graders; the bombing of Hattie Cotton Elementary School; HBCU Sit-ins; and the Freedom Riders. Students divided into respective groups, thoroughly researched their assigned topics and wrote “witness poetry” informed by their collective findings. The goal of poetry of witness, as coined by Carolyn Forché, is to better understand the relationship between the political and the personal. Poetry of witness speaks truth to power in guiding readers through history shaping moments. The student poets in this anthology were able to study the civil rights movement through a contemporary lens. In sharpening the tools of knowledge rooted in our past, we are hoping to better forge the way forward into our future. It was our intent to perform this poetry at a “We Shall Overcome” exhibit hosted by TSU’s Art department at the end of the Spring 2020 semester. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted those plans. Nevertheless, we want to thank the following individuals for supporting the publication of this anthology: Jasmine Moseley, Cover Artist; Courtney Adair Johnson, TSU Gallery Director; Dr. Cynthia Gadsden, Assistant Professor of Art History; Dr. Gloria Johnson, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Dr. Samantha Morgan-Curtis, English Dept. Chair; Dr. Erik Schmeller, Director of the Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement, and the Frist Art Museum. Your support and encouragement was the fuel that pushed us through the many obstacles that confronted the fruition this project. Lastly, as an instructor, I want to thank the student writers who persevered in producing this anthology. You worked hard in the shadows of a global pandemic and shutdown, technological challenges, piercing isolation, and Nashville tornadoes. I pushed you. You pulled me. And together, we birthed this anthology. Your work honors the heroes of our past while educating the heroes of the future. I am humbled by your tenacity, and I look forward to seeing what you do at TSU and beyond. Michelle J. Pinkard, PhD Class Professor Spring 2020


We Shall Overcome Poetic Witness to Civil Rights Era Nashville Vol. 1 Table of Contents Cover Art: Small Things to a Giant by Jasmine Moseley I.

James Lawson, Civil Rights Icon ……………………………………………… 4 Poetry by Nikayla Cobb Poetry by Norel Mcadoo Poetry by Adazia McDonald


Nashville first Graders Desegregate Public Schools ………………….. Poetry by WaTeasa Freeman Poetry by Fatemah Harvey Poetry by Irwin Todd


Hattie Cotton Elementary School is Bombed …………………………….. 12 Poetry by Edina Manley Poetry by Trinity Young


Nashville HBCU’s Launch Sit-ins ………………………………………………. 15 Poetry by Jacqueline Asamoah Poetry by McKenzie Reid Poetry by Keith Thomas


Nashville Students Participate in the Freedom Rides ………………… 19 Poetry by Joseph Hart Poetry by Maya Mayes


Project Contributor Bios …………………………………………………………. 22


Demonstrators sang in front of the Nashville Police Department on August 7, 1961, protesting what they called police brutality in a racial clash two nights earlier. They criticized “inadequate” police protection and called for qualified black personnel to “replace incompetent officers on the police force.” Photo by Eldred Reaney. Courtesy of The Tennessean and We Shall Overcome: Press Photographs of Nashville in the Civil Rights Era. We would like to thank Frist Art Museum curator Katie Delmez for the inspiring exhibition: We Shall Overcome: Civil Rights and the Nashville Press, 1957-1968


James Lawson, Civil Rights Icon of Nashville

Four Nashville policemen arrive at First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill, to arrest James Lawson. He was expelled from Vanderbilt University for his participation in the sit-ins. March 4, 1960. Photo by Vic Cooley. Nashville Banner Archives, Nashville Public Library, Special Collections. Courtesy of We Shall Overcome: Press Photographs of Nashville in the Civil Rights Era.

"The forces of violence and economic deprivation and cruelty, the forces of evil, which are so well organized today in the United States, cannot prevail. They are on the wrong side of the human spirit; they are on the wrong side of history. ... Let this be the day where we recommit ourselves to continue the struggle." -- James Lawson


The Early Morning Sun by Nikayla Cobb as my eyes unfold for the first time, and gaze softly at one of God’s recurring gifts to us the early morning Sun I am granted yet one more chance to impact the future of my people should I decide to follow the white man’s order? and put an end to the workshops protect our image and respect their companies adhere to their orders dissatisfy and discourage my people because apparently sitting peacefully in restaurants causes more harm than the past years have caused us or better yet, should I decide to fight? the type of fight where mouths are silent, and fists are non existent and, the anger from the years of oppression are suppressed within us

A Nonviolent workshop led by Rev. James Lawson,

eyes still glaring at the glorious early morning Sun yet another day the Lord has gave us And I chose yet again this day to decide to fight a “do unto others as you would have done to you” kind of fight

Poet’s Note: I wanted to emphasize the decision making process so that the readers could gain a higher level of respect for the people that woke up on a daily basis, knew the different consequences, and risks that they would face, but yet still decided to persevere anyway.


Rain by Norel McAdoo “People accept the ideological or even religious myth that if you want to get things done, violence is the way” - Rev. James Lawson honey why do They even try? everyday They come and protest Sunday to Sunday meanwhile my diner has turned to Monday night raw it seems pointless to fight over a sundae i mean its better than slavery They can eat in the same building in the back, its practically the same feeling They make me feel uncomfortable i liked it better when it was all white They bring all of this unwanted attention just for the police to take them out of sight They won’t quit day after day what is gained? They’re nothing but trouble if our store was a parade They would be the rain

Screen capture of Love & Solidarity: James Lawson & Nonviolence in the Search for Workers’ Rights

the type of rain that pours nonstop as if God was trying to cleanse us with rebels but my daddy raised me in the church I’m doing God’s work so They must be the devil

Poet’s Note: While sitting in these restaurants, the protesters showed great bravery and resilience to not quit in the face of jail and abuse by racist white bystanders. ... If evil people believe that they are right, then they must think that people who are truly right and truly fighting for justice are evil.


Their Hatred by Adazia McDonald they see our skin and make us want to Bleed they used to Beat us til thick Purple Whelps poured Blood down our spines they see us smile at a woman and they Hang us They covered us with oil making our bodies slick then Burn us alive and Laugh as our skin Melts off our bones like the best kind of ribs we have more freedom around them but still have to stay away Separate water fountains and restaurants its Terrible Quality but at least it’s something

Rev. James Lawson was arrested many times after protests and sit-ins.

but We Want MORE so we sit in their fancy restaurants peacefully they yell, scream, and call us Nigger they push us, punch us Spit in our faces chunks of chewed french fries sliding down the cheek but we remain calm look straight ahead because they are the ones causing the harm And that alone shows Their HATRED

Poet’s Note: I wanted to focus this poem on the violence that black people received back in the day. I wanted to start off with slavery in one stanza, lynching in the second, and then transition to the civil rights movement.


Nashville First Graders Desegregate Public Schools September 9, 1957: Nineteen black first-graders enter formerly all-white schools as Nashville becomes the first city in the South to begin the desegregation process for a public education system.

The parents of six-year-old Sinclair Lee, Jr., lead their son to Glenn Elementary, Nashville, TN, September 1957. Š Nashville Public Library. Courtesy of


We Shall Overcome WaTeasa Freeman September 8, 1957 I was painting September 8, 1957 I was playing with my best friend red paint on a white canvas Tomorrow is my first day of school. Tomorrow is the first day I’m a little nervous I’m a first grader I cooked meatloaf for dinner I heard my mama’s voice “Joy Kelly Smith” My son and daughter sat at the table My feet begin to run to the back door John starts to pray dust trailing me like a looney tone “Lord, bless us and protect us tomorrow” Mama cooked a big dinner cause After dinner I finished work for my husband daddy preached hard that day and ironed for everyone After dinner I had to get my hair done Catherine and Luke are in bed she washed and brush I begin to look at what I’ve created I pulled and ow-ed John is on the phone creating his plot after grease, braids and barrettes He isn’t violent just passionate, we picked a dress navy and white never been the type to love niggers Daddy came to my room to pray I prayed; we were ready for the first day I was ready for my first day.

Erroll Groves (center) holds the hand of his mother, Iridell Groves, as they walk to Buena Vista School on the first day of desegregation in Nashville’s public schools. September 9, 1957. Photo by Eldred Reaney. Courtesy of The Tennessean and We Shall Overcome: Press Photographs of Nashville in the Civil Rights Era.

Poet’s Note: I wanted to show the similarities and differences between the two parties. Although being racist is far from expectable, I wanted to show the human side to people who are in that boat.


We Shall Overcome Fatemah Harvey I don’t know why everyone keeps praying. Momma keeps telling me that things will be different. Her voice, a broken record but, I tuned her out this time. I’m excited to go to school tomorrow but Momma won’t let go of Jesus’ name. She keeps calling and calling him and I really don’t know why. “No weapon formed against her shall prosper.” “Every tongue that rises against her shall fail” Momma said it three times. She keeps calling on Jesus. I really hope he answers, She sounds worried.

Grace McKinley walking her daughter, Linda Gail McKinley past hostile whites to school in Nashville, Tennessee, 1957,

Poet’s Note: Overall, I just want the audience to understand that the issues that black people, young or old, went through were extremely inhumane and traumatic. These experiences deserve to be heard and seen.


First Day Irwin W. Todd, III “ You belong here no matter what everyone else says” Driving to school on your first day “What will it be like?’ “When am I gonna see my friends?” “I hope my teacher is nice” “I hope I can do the work”

Protesters in the street on the day Nashville schools were desegregated, Nashville, TN, September 1957. © Nashville Public Library. Courtesy of

Questions that every kid asks when they have their “first day” jitters These are only things you should worry about But sadly this isn’t the case You pull up to school, and see all these angry faces, screaming with posters standing outside They say “GO BACK HOME!” “WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE!” “YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE!” Mom turns around and says “When you get out, hold my hand and try not to listen to what those other people are saying, ya here? They don’t know what they’re talking about.” You get hold, your hand finds your mom’s and you walk the longest walk ever You close your eyes to make it easier to not listen to the scary people You finally get inside, see that everyone is staring and looks nothing like you Your mom gives you one last piece of advice: “No matter what anyone tells you, you deserve to be here.” She kisses your forehead Turns around and goes back into the craziness that is outside that is outside If she can go back outside You’ll be safe.

Poet’s Note: The parents had to instill the confidence and the resilience they had as adults into children. Not only is this inspiring, it’s heartbreaking. The situation required that they learn these lessons fast. The respect I have for both generations cannot be measured.


Hattie Cotton Elementary School is Bombed September 10, 1957: At approximately 12:30 a.m., a dynamite blast destroys the east wing of Hattie Cotton School in East Nashville.


Thin Walls by Edina Manley A tale of a young black child who looked forward to fighting for his education at Hattie Cotton elementary every day. They keep calling me I can hear them calling But it’s not my Name So I don’t answer to it. I know it’s a call for me though, I can hear it in their raging voices. Vicious, volatile villains It’s not nice things they say, Makes me feel unwanted I know I belong here, I know it. Mama ain’t raise no quitter So I will continue to listen The names, the threats This will be music to my ears, Everyday on my way to school, I can get use to this. More mean words to hear tomorrow. Or maybe not. And just like that. No more mean words. No nothing. Just thin walls.

Linda McKinley and Charles Elbert Ridley were the only firstgraders at Fehr Elementary School in North Nashville on the day after the bombing of Hattie Cotton Elementary School. Photo by Bill Goodman. Nashville Banner Archives, Nashville Public Library, Special Collections. Courtesy of We Shall Overcome: Press Photographs of Nashville in the Civil Rights Era.

Poet’s Note: I tried to put myself into the position of an innocent black child on their way to school and then thought about the reaction of the child after the bombing. The disappointment must have been very present in every child’s heart.


It Was Just a Dream by Trinity Young “Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome.” - Rosa Parks As a mother, I desire the best for my child, Belly full of food, head full of knowledge, and a face crinkled with a smile, Their kids get it, so should mine. Never would I have taken the steps if I knew it was over that line, the line that enables someone to burn and erupt with such malice, holding so tight to their hatred, hands callused. Now, I must sit my little girl down, Tell her how this town doesn’t want her. Reassuring her not because she doesn’t shine with beauty, Not because she’s not just as smart, Not because she lacks the worthiness, Reassuring her she’s just as precious as ancient art. I must explain to her how she can’t go to school, Because last night it went up in flames, Blown to pieces the size of her innocent little hands, Her beautiful brown skin to blame.

Registration day at Glenn Elementary School, Nashville, TN, August 1957. © Nashville Public Library. Courtesy of

I must tell her that it wasn’t just a dream, That the thunderous boom, the rattling of our house was all real and everything that happened was exactly as it seemed. Worst of all, I must tell her that this won’t be the last time. It won’t be the last time people show their true colors of colorism, It won’t be the last time she has to face darkness, but still, gleam. If only it was just a dream.

Poet’s Note: I wanted to tell a story from the point of view of a mother because I can only imagine the pain it causes to try to explain such an extreme act of hatred. How can you explain to a child that the color of their skin can lead someone to do something so bad?


Nashville HBCU’s launch sit-ins On February 13, 1960: The first large-scale sit-ins take place in Nashville as more than one hundred protesters from four local historically black colleges converge on downtown lunch counters.

Several men attempt to drag a nonviolent student sit-in demonstrator from his stool at the lunch counter in the upstairs section of Woolworth’s on Fifth Avenue North. February 27, 1960. Photo by Vic Cooley. Nashville Banner Archives, Nashville Public Library, Special Collections. Courtesy of We Shall Overcome: Press Photographs of Nashville in the Civil Rights Era.


Victory Fight By Jacqueline Asamoah A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything You got that right, brother Malcolm Privilege is snatched from our grasp like death laying its icy hands down your spine. Dawn, day, dusk, night, dawn repeat Diners, trains, buses, schools, diners repeat An endless cycle of “Whites Only” The lights go off we see black The ships sail north we see black The farms are growing weed we see black But when do we really see black? How much longer is this going to be okay? How much longer will we be trampled on? No more! Your skin is not a bin Your skin is not a sin Brothers and sisters arise Brothers and sisters stand tall Know your worth Know, you are as American as they come We get in, we sit We get served, we sit Rosa did it Claudette did it

The first large-scale organized sit-in took place in Nashville on February 13, 1960, when more than one hundred protesters from four local historically black colleges converged on downtown lunch counters, including McLellan’s (seen here). Photo by Bill Goodman. Nashville Banner Archives, Nashville Public Library, Special Collections. We Shall Overcome: Press Photographs of Nashville in the Civil Rights Era

We can and we will We will because we stand as one, Brothers and sisters, this is your chance to be free Segregation must end, this is your victory fight!

Poet’s Note: As an HBCU attendee, many times I see students stand up and defend their rights, so I actually wanted to take the standpoint of a student leader calling her fellow schoolmates to take action and partake in the sit-ins.


88 Days by Mckenzie Reid “Freedom, by definition, is people realizing that they are their own leaders.”- Diane Nash February 13,1960 Through May 10,1960 Mark the days our kin Fought for a win. Fought for freedom With no violence Or no riots. Verbally and physically attacked Threatened to move away and out back. Constrained and detained. Eyes of anger and hate Pierced their chestnut skin as they took their throne to sit in. 88 days to make a change 88 days of protest and pain and they would be damned if they left without Stamping their name. Letting it be known They fought the great fight and sat in for their freedom and equal rights. Jean Wynona Fleming, a Fisk University student, behind bars in a Nashville city jail after her arrest at a downtown Moon-McGrath drugstore lunch counter. Photo by Jimmy Ellis. Courtesy of The Tennessean and We Shall Overcome: Press Photographs of Nashville in the Civil Rights Era.

Poet’s Note: I decided to title my poem “88 days” because that is how long students protested for their equal rights and desegregation in Nashville diners. Within those 88 days, the protestors experienced trials and tribulations to fight for their rights.


Fight Back Keith Thomas “Electrifying movement of Negro students that shattered the placid surface of campuses and communities across the South.” We tried to be civil. We stay calm to the best of our ability. The word Nigger is so sharp it feels like its cutting skin deep to my heart. We no longer settle for the disrespect. It is our time to stand up and fight back.

John Lewis, O.D. Hunt, and Dennis Gregory Foote arrested during the Nashville Student Movement, undated,

Even if means going to jail, getting slaughtered in the middle of the street while everyone watches. They don’t understand what it feels like to be hated because of skin. “You dumb ass Nigger you better mind your elders or else”. “Don’t look at me with those ugly big Nigger eyes and pink juicy Nigger lips”. They are so quick to shame us then turn and expect us to respect them. To them we are just property To them a table and a black person are equal. Enslave us to the point that we are dying of thirst and hunger. Our mouths dry as dirt from lack of water. Our bellies in aching pain, lacking food We still stand strong and wait until our time to fight back.

John Lewis mugshot

Some use physical force such as beating a racist cracker to the white meat. Others use protest, marches and sit-ins to make a statement. They were’nt ready for us to fight back. They really thought we were gonna just lay down. We got too much pride and love for our culture to just be walked on. Just know our bite is more powerful than our bark. Poet’s Note: I capitalize the word Nigger not to say that it is ok, but to say that the word was used to break us down. We clearly overcame that word and stand strong.


Nashville Students Participate in the Freedom Rides On May 17, 1961: Nashville students travel to Birmingham to continue the Freedom Rides. Many of the original riders had been attacked and beaten in Alabama.

Freedom Rider Mae Frances Moultrie Howard stands by a burning Greyhound bus in Anniston, Ala. on May 14, 1961. Federal Bureau Of Investigation


Dear Freedom Rider by Joseph Hart It’s your turn to ride down the lonely highway to a land unknown to you, keep you heads held high, be not afraid because one day there will be books written about your day. Poems, novels, and newsletters alike speaking about Civil Rights. Some Riders were bombed, some were beaten, others were killed. We were put in jail left to find our own way back home without any help. So, keep on keeping keep on, this fight that we might not win, just ride and I mean ride until its bitter end. Dr. King didn’t ride but that’s okay, We Freedom Riders, We didn’t need him anyway. We took our stand We took it with pride, We thank God above that most are still alive. So, it’s your turn now, don’t be afraid we are still with you until the coming of a new age.

Nashville Freedom Riders Rip Patton (left) and Bernard LaFayette (aisle) with Jim Lawson seated behind them on the bus headed into Jackson, Mississippi, 1961,

Ride Freedom Riders ride.

Poet’s Note: I had to process the fact that these students rode on a bus knowing that they were going to face racism and pure hatred. Their efforts took great courage and this is one of the things I wanted to bring out in this poem.


The Night Before by Maya Mayes My mind is packed full of what if’s?, should I’s?, and how comes? Left brain: When you get on the bus, focus on the driver’s eye contact. Did his eyebrows twitch? Did his mouth frown like when you see a dead dear on the side of the road? This will determine his reaction to our protest. Right brain: What if I become a world renowned legend for human and civil rights? Sacrificing my life for equality; A Martin Luther King Jr. I could have a cartoon created about me.

A screen capture of Diane Nash from PBS's The Student Leader: A Short Film from Freedom Riders aired in 2010.

I just want to sleep. A hundred thoughts going through my head, but I know the decisions I’ve made and the impact I must make. My purpose is to fight for justice, as a minister I must expose the people to Christ.

Poet’s Note: My poem is written in the perspective of Diane Nash. It describes her thoughts the night before leaving Nashville as a Freedom Rider. … I went into a daydream about a cartoon. I allow Diane Nash to wonder about the future beyond the freedom ride and the impact she will have on the country.


Project Contributor Bios We Shall Overcome: Poetic Witness to Civil Rights Nashville Vol. 1 was the capstone assignment for students enrolled in Creative Writing Poetry at TSU (Spring 2020). It is part of the “I Want to Write” initiative in TSU’s Languages, Literature and Philosophy Department. Learn more by visiting: Jacqueline Asamoah was born and raised in Ghana. Shortly after high school, she relocated to America to continue studies. At Southwest Tennessee Community College, she was the Creative Editor for the Southwest Source, Sergeant at Arms for SGA, Vice President of Public Relations for Phi Theta Kappa, and a Peer Tutor at the Academic Support Center. She studied abroad in Peru and Greece. She is currently an honors student and peer tutor at Tennessee State University. She aspires to become a surgeon, and writes poetry in her free time. Nikayla Cobb is a graduating senior at Tennessee State University where she is majoring in Human Performance and Sports Science with a concentration in exercise science. During her time at TSU, she has joined a community service based organization called “Love You Like A Sister,” where she participated in different community service projects that confirmed her desire to pursue her passion in education. Service activities included volunteering at local elementary schools and tutoring an AVID class in a high school.

WaTeasa Freeman is a Junior at Tennessee State University. She majors in Mass Communications with a double minor in Africana studies and English. Freeman is 20 years old and from Columbus, Ohio. She has been writing poetry since 2011 and considers it a passion of hers. When she is not writing she enjoys crochet, painting, makeup and singing.

Joseph B. Hart is a senior at Tennessee State University, majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Business and Psychology. He served and the United States Army for 23 years and retired as a Staff Sergeant, during that time he deployed five times. He aspires to pursue a career in Theology and work as a Chaplain in hospitals and Hospice. When he is not busy serving at his church and missions, he enjoys training for the Track and Field Masters and being a Personal Trainer. Maya Mayes is a native of Atlanta, Georgia and studying civil engineering at Tennessee State University. She serves as the executive chairman of ASCE, the secretary of Allure Modeling Troupe, and the revamp chair of Society of Women Engineers. Maya is interested in a career in transportation engineering. Norel McAdoo (Ceo Norel) was born in Little Rock Arkansas, is a super dynamic creative. Entering the rap scene in 2015, his career began with the releases of the album series “Step Into My Office” volumes 1-3 and the eps: “Slumber’s Over” and “C.E.O”. At the end of his junior year of high school, he became known as an award winning poet. A part of the poetry troupe The Writeous, he became a published and professional poet with publication of a poetry book entitled: A Writeous Look at the Crises: Poems Inspired by the Little Rock 9.

Adazia McDonald is a student of language. She is currently teaching herself Japanese and learning Spanish. She plans on using her language skills to become a translator or an interpreter. She is 20 years old and is in her sophomore year at Tennessee State University. She also works a serving job at Rodizio Grill.

Jasmine Moseley is a recent graduate of TSU, with a BA in studio art. She is a Nashville based painter and illustrator that specializes in paintings depicting African American women and/or children in a wide array of settings, moods, and/or hairstyles that help reflect their beauty, strength, and tenacity.


McKenzie Reid is a student at Tennessee State University where she is studying English with a concentration in Secondary Education. She was inspired to pursue a Bachelors of Art in English because of her passion for literature. She gained interest in becoming an educator due to her love for school, children, and learning. When she is not in classroom or working with children, Reid loves to work with the homeless shelters and the children’s emergency shelter within her community.

Keith Thomas is a student at Tennessee State University with a great imagination and creative skill set. He is not afraid to step outside his comfort zone. Thomas wants his readers to feel so much emotion within his work that they want to read more. He wants to generate excitement about the written word.

Irwin Todd is a freshman at Tennessee State University. He’s a creative, reliable, hard worker whose curiosity helps him cope and approach the challenges of life. His major is Agribusiness, and his career goal is to work for either the USDA or the FDA as a marketing specialist.

Trinity Young was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is currently a Sophomore at Tennessee State University pursuing a liberal arts degree with a concentration in humanities. At TSU, Trinity is a member of the university’s Honors College. Upon graduation, Trinity plans to continue his life as an entrepreneur and investor. Some of his interests include making music, men’s fashion and world travel.

Michelle J. Pinkard, PhD: Creative Writing Poetry Course Instructor Dr. Michelle J. Pinkard teaches African American Literature, Poetics and Women’s Studies at Tennessee State University. She is the creator and director of the I Want to Write Initiative. Her scholarship is inspired by intersections in African American, Gender, Modernism and Creative Writing studies. Ultimately, the apex of these varied interests is an examination of the way identity affects the creative process.

Courtesy of We Shall Overcome: Press Photographs of Nashville in the Civil Rights Era

“I came to Nashville not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration from the Great Movement that has taken place in this community.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Thank you for paving the way, Creative Writing Poetry Class, Spring 2020


In Memoriam

John Lewis of SNCC leads Nashville Christian Leadership Conference (NCLC) freedom marchers in 1963. Courtesy of

“I think it is a must for young people and generations yet to come, to understand, to feel, to touch, to almost smell the drama of what happened a few short years ago [the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s]. So maybe, just maybe, we will never ever repeat this unbelievable time in our history. We have to tell it all, and make it plain, and make it clear, so people will never ever forget the distance we have come, and the progress we have yet to make.” - Congressman John Lewis 1940 - 2020

C.T. Vivian of SCLC confronting Sheriff Jim Clark, Selma, Alabama, 1965. Courtesy of

“Leadership is found in the action to defeat that which would defeat you. … You are made by the struggles you choose.” - Rev. C.T. Vivian 1924 - 2020 TSU-20-0123-(A)-6e-13106 – Tennessee State University does not discriminate against students, employees, or applicants or admission or employment on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, disability, age, status as a protected veteran, genetic information, or any other legally protected class with respect to all employment, programs and activities sponsored by Tennessee State University. The following person has been designated to handle inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies: Natasha Dowell, Office of Equity and Inclusion,, 3500 John Merritt Blvd., General Services Building, Second Floor, Nashville, TN 37209, 615-963-7494. The Tennessee State 24 University policy on nondiscrimination can be found at

Profile for Tennessee State University

We Shall Overcome: Poetic Witness to Civil Rights Era Nashville Vol. 1  


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