Photograph of pieces of a shattered plaque honoring the 4,000 non-violent demonstrators who marched to the Metro Courthouse after Councilman Zephaniah Alexander Looby ’s home was bombed during the Civil Rights Movement. The plaque was shattered and used to break the windows of the Metro Courthouse during the previous night’s protests Sunday, May 31, 2020.

 NASHVILLE, TN — During the summer of 2020, a peaceful protest in response to the death of George Floyd turned violent in downtown Nashville. One casualty of the violence was the permanent Civil Rights plaque near the downtown courthouse. It was broken, and protestors then used the pieces to break the courthouse windows. 

The Civil Rights Plaque, originally dedicated on April 19, 1995, commemorated the 1960 desegregation of Nashville. On the morning of April 19, 1960, the home of Black Councilman Z. Alexander Looby was bombed. Several thousand marchers walked to the Metro Courthouse in protest, where Mayor Ben West met them and told the crowd, in a public exchange with Fisk University student Diane Nash, that shop owners were wrong to sell to Black residents while denying them service at lunch counters. 

The Civil Rights Display at the John Hope and Aurelia Elizabeth E. Franklin Library will house pieces of the plaque will be part of a new, permanent exhibit in the Special Collections and Archives area which will include a digital display with a documentary about desegregation of Nashville and the historical significance of the plaque.

The plaque before it was broken. Photo by Gary Layda, Metro Archives

 This project is the first of two these organizations have undertaken to provide an accurate portrayal of the history of civil rights in Nashville. 

The Nashville Bar Association, established in 1831, is a professional organization serving the legal community of Nashville, Tennessee. With almost 3,000 members, the organization is the largest metropolitan bar association in Tennessee.

The Nashville Bar Association and Nashville Bar Foundation, in partnership with the Napier Looby Association and Foundation, the Mayor’s Office, the Black Caucus of the Metro Council, and sponsor K&L Gates dedicated the plaque on April 19 at Fisk University.

During the dedication ceremony, Mayor John Cooper, Fisk President Vann Newkirk, Council-At-Large Sharon Hurt, Jianne McDonald with K & L Gates, and Spencer Fane attorney William J “Paz” Haynes, III addressed the audience.