As we draw closer to the MLK March in the city of Nashville and round this country, it is no more fitting to give a brief history of those who were instrumental in establishing the MLK activities in Nashville.
Also, it is imperative to educate our community on the names and individuals who sacrificed and gave to make the Nashville MLK activities one of the most participated events in the celebration of Dr. M. L. King across this country.
In 1988, Reverend James “Tex” Thomas called leaders together (who were all members of the NAACP), to plan for the MLK March in Nashville, TN.
The purpose of the meeting was to establish a location and organize the city of Nashville for its first March in 1989.
The first March was held in 1989 at The War Memorial Building. Over 2500 marchers participated from churches and locations around the city. Reverend Sweeny and Reverend James Turner, along with several other preachers were instrumental in organizing the church participation.
After the March, leaders met and protested the public-school system who did not close their doors for the first Martin L. King March in Nashville. Many other protests were led by Kwame Leo Dillard of businesses such as Third National Bank, Sovran Bank, and Kim’s Boutique on Jefferson Street who refused to honor the holiday and conducted business as usual on MLK Day.
The protest efforts ultimately led to these businesses being closed for the 1990 MLK Day celebration, and the public school system closed their doors and allowed students the right to participate.
In the early 1990s the leadership again met to move the march to TSU. Mrs. C.E. McGruder along with Reverend Venita Lewis championed the need to have a strong youth presence during the MLK activities. We organized a group who met and built partnerships with Dr. Hefner President of TSU, Dr. Henry Ponder President of Fisk University and Dr. Satcher, President of Meharry College. We also solicited the leadership of Jeff Carr, SGA President of the Student Government at Tennessee State University to lead in the effort to galvanize the youth participation during the MLK Activities.
We also built partnerships with students at Belmont, David Lipscomb, and Vanderbilt to bridge the gap and pull together youth of all ethnic backgrounds across the city to participate. A series of activities for youth participation during MLK was organized during this effort.
For many years, a group of leaders met at Jefferson Street Baptist Church and made over 100 Freedom signs for the youth and marchers. The signs helped to build the march presentation and visibility during the MLK activities. Mr. Howard Jones Sr. donated annually to cover the cost of materials to build the signs.
These innovations assisted in making the Nashville March one of the most participated MLK events in the country.
Many of the innovations, dedications, and efforts from the dedicated group of individuals in 1989 to organize the March January 17, 1989, are still visible and instrumental in the success of the MLK March and activities today.