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Feb. 22 Vanderbilt symposium will mark 50th anniversary of Nashville sit-ins

Feb. 9, 2010, 11:34 AM

The 50th anniversary of the Nashville sit-ins, which were an early civil rights movement success and a critical time in the life of Vanderbilt University, will be observed with a symposium featuring some of its participants.

The 7 p.m. symposium Feb. 22 at Vanderbilt’s Student Life Center, 310 25th Avenue South, is free and open to the public. Video will be recorded and posted at VUCast, the website of Vanderbilt News Service, at

“Vanderbilt and The Nashville Sit-In Movement: A Fifty Year Retrospective” will be moderated by Gary Gerstle, James Stahlman Professor of History, and feature the Rev. James Lawson, Distinguished University Professor and the key organizer of the original protests.

The sit-ins at Nashville lunch counters from February to May of 1960 resulted in the arrests of more than 150 students who refused to leave despite police orders. Many were verbally or physically attacked. Lawson, then a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School, was expelled by the university for his role in the sit-ins, sparking controversy in Nashville and on campus.

Scheduled to appear at the symposium are Lawson; John Seigenthaler, founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt and publisher emeritus at The Tennessean; Dr. John Sergent, professor of medicine and 1964 Vanderbilt graduate; Susan Ford Wiltshire, professor of classics, emerita; Charles Roos, professor of physics, emeritus; and Crystal deGregory, a doctoral student at Vanderbilt. Roos and Wilshire were faculty members in 1960.

A 6 p.m. reception will precede the event.

Symposium sponsors include the Office of Citizenship and Service; Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities; Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, Office of the Dean of Students; University Commons; the Office of the Associate Provost; and the Vanderbilt Political Review.

Media contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS