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Civil rights activist delivering keynote at ML King event

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POSTED January 13, 2014 12:13 a.m.

MODESTO —  Diane Nash, a leader and strategist in the 1960s civil rights movement, will be the keynote speaker addressing “The Dreams of the ‘60s: A Legacy for Today” at the 2014 Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration on Saturday, Feb. 1, at 7 p.m. in the Main Auditorium of Modesto Junior College’s Performing Arts Center, 435 College Avenue, Modesto. 

 The free community event will also feature the presentation of the 2014 MLK Legacy Award to Pastor Wayne Bridegroom of Central Baptist Church for his vision, leadership, and dedication to helping the neighborhoods and people on Modesto’s west side for the past 40 years.

The program which celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will include inspirational music by the Ware Singers and performance of a short excerpt from the Sankofa Theatre’s production of “Freedom Riders” that will be presented at the Gallo Center for the Arts on February 14.

 The 20th annual MLK Commemoration will be preceded by a public reception from 5 to 6 p.m. at the King-Kennedy Center, 601 S. Martin Luther King Dr., Modesto.

 Raised in a middle-class Catholic family in Chicago, Nash chose to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.  There for the first time she experienced the humiliating segregation of the Jim Crow South — the separate water fountains and restrooms for whites and blacks, the restaurants or lunch counters where blacks could not eat.

 At non-violence workshops, given by Rev. James Lawson, Nash learned to channel her anger into nonviolent direct action. She helped organize sit-ins at local department stores and lunch counters, and played a pivotal role in the 1961 Freedom Rides that challenged interstate bus segregation. After their bus was burned in Anniston and riders were injured in Birmingham, some leaders wanted to halt the Freedom Rides, but she argued it was the movement’s duty to continue. With characteristic clarity and calm courage, she conveyed this fearless message to federal authorities and the press.

 In 1962, though pregnant, she was jailed for teaching nonviolent tactics to children. In many acts of civil disobedience with John Lewis, she refused bail for her arrests in order to be heard. She also played key roles in the 1963 Birmingham de-segregation campaign and the Selma Voting Rights Campaign of 1965. She maintained her commitment throughout the civil rights movement as well as in the peace movement to end the Vietnam War.

Among her numerous awards are the Rosa Parks Award, Distinguished American Award, LBJ Award for Leadership in Civil Rights, and Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum.

 For more information contact James Costello, Modesto/Peace Life Center, at or Dan Onorato, MJC Faculty Emeritus, at or (209) 526-5436.

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