Witness Walls, Nashville's Civil Rights-inspired public artwork

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Witness Walls

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Nashville, Tennessee, was at the forefront of the Modern Civil Rights Movement (1954-1964). Following the desegregation of Nashville's public schools beginning in 1957, it was students at the city's predominantly black universities that led the way in nonviolent protest. Students held lunch counter sit-ins beginning in 1960 and participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961. The success of this dynamic local movement was due in part to the collective action of students and residents and the intentional leadership training program based upon nonviolence. Nashville's student leaders went on to impact the Civil Rights Movement across the country.

Witness Walls, located beside the Davidson County Courthouse, is a public artwork inspired by the events and the people who made history here in Nashville. For this site, artist Walter Hood designed sculptural concrete walls with period images that create a site of remembrance and celebration. The artist’s selection of images for the artwork does not seek to highlight key individuals or singular events in a chronological or hierarchical order. Instead, the collective action is revealed in the sitting and marching narratives. As visitors walk through the artwork’s concrete walls, they will encounter Nashvillians taking action—school desegregation, lunch counter sit-ins, economic boycotts, marches, meetings, and Freedom Rides. Just as this site once did, visitors moving through and around these walls bear witness to the remarkable events that took place in Nashville over a half century ago.

When you visit, be sure to check out the plaque that gives a brief description of Nashville's critical role in the Civil Rights movement and includes all the historic images used by the artist. All of the images, except where noted, are sourced from the period black-and-white photographs in the Nashville Banner Archives at the Nashville Public Library, Special Collections. If you arrive at the artwork site at ten minutes before the hour, you will hear songs one might have heard on the radio in Nashville that reflect the struggle for civil rights.

Witness Walls is a project of the Metro Nashville Arts Commission’s Percent for Public Art Program and was dedicated in 2017.

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Witness Walls
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