Freedom Rider Ernest "Rip" Patton, Jr.  Photo courtesy

By Ron Wynn

NASHVILLE, TN — Nearly 60 years (57 to be exact) a 21-year-old Tennessee State University music major Ernest “Rip” Patton decided to get personally involved in the fight for social justice and equality. He joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and became a prominent member of the Nashville Movement. He participated in the Lawson Workshops, was involved in Nashville’s sit-ins, and became a Freedom Rider a year later. At one point he found himself in the notorious Parchman Farm Penitentiary, sent there along with others for daring to enter a “white only” Greyhound bus station’s waiting room. Patton’s contemporaries and friends include such names as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth, C. T. Vivian, John Lewis, Hank Thomas and Diane Nash among others.

Today, Patton is still actively involved in the struggle. He will be a guest speaker this coming Tuesday at a very special event, “Amanda Shires & Friends.” This is a combination rally, concert, advocacy event and voter registration push being held at 3rd and Lindsley, 818 3rd Avenue, beginning at 8 p.m. Doors open at 6, with proceeds going to support Headcount, who is presenting this event along with Nashville United. Headcount is a national non-partisan organization that uses  music to register voters and promotes participation in democracy. They feel musicians and their fans can be leaders who help shape policy and culture in America. They hope to galvanize the music community into a politically influential force. Nashville United in term hopes to promote liberty, equality and justice by also utilizing music, in the process encouraging and increasing voter registration and participation.

“One of the saddest things to me today is talking to people who fail to understand the importance of voting and participating in the process,” Patton said last week during an interview. “You see folks today who feel that their vote doesn’t count, that if they stay home it doesn’t matter. Well we’ve just seen in this last election what the results of that can bring. So I’m out here working with these groups and other to see that it doesn’t keep happening. We are targeting 2018 in this state. We want to turn this state purple, if we can’t turn it blue.”

Patton still lives in Nashville, and is openly concerned about some of the things that he doesn’t see or hear when folks call Nashville the “It” city. “I don’t hear a lot of concern about the poor, the homeless when I hear all this business about Nashville being an “It” city,” he continued. “I can remember a time when you had neighbors. Now no one knows who’s next door. They’re popping up these properties all over the place, buying up land, but what about the seniors? Where are they going to live when the property they’ve been in for years soars so high they can’t afford to live there anymore? I see all these condos and other buildings, but how much of it is affordable housing? Those are the issues that you don’t hear being discussed, or addressed very often.”

He’s also continued to keep an eye on national developments, and in particular has carefully watched such movements as “Black Lives Matter.” He’s generally very supportive of their efforts, but says that there are some areas of caution. “You’ve got to have people who can address the media and do it in an effective fashion,” Patton said. “One of the things that I’ve noticed about them is that they often say they don’t believe in having any leaders. That’s fine in one sense, because it means that you don’t have any one person that is being targeted or viewed as voicing policy for everyone. But if you don’t have people who are capable of saying this is what we want, these are the things that we’re focusing on, then you’re going to lose your effectiveness.”

“It is also very important that they keep their efforts non-violent. Because you cannot overpower or outgun the police. They can always call in reinforcements, and they can bring in the National Guard as well. It is important that demonstrations and protest marches maintain a non-violent approach. The sad thing is when you see people who aren’t even that committed to the cause and just want to loot or tear up things, and they do it in their own neighborhoods. All that does is hurt the people in those areas, and it doesn’t really affect what you’re protesting against. So it is important that the Black Lives Matter people maintain that focus on non-violence.”

“We always had people who could go to a press conference and say, this is what we’re doing. These are the issues that are important. These are our goals. It’s vital for any organization to have people who can do that. I definitely support much of what they are doing and saying. But as they evolve, I hope that they remain effective in terms of addressing the public and in terms of media strategy.”

“We always focused on the future,” Patton concluded. “We weren’t just thinking about what we could get for ourselves. We were concerned about how our actions could benefit those coming behind us. That’s the challenge that always faces any organization. You’ve got to be conscious that your actions and your tactics are beneficial to those coming behind you and that what you are doing is going to help the next generations. We were always thinking about with the Freedom Riders and SNCC, and it is still something that drives me today.”

Nashville United and Headcount present “Amanda Shires & Friends,” with guest speaker Rip Patton. Tuesday night at 3rd and Lindsley, 8 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $25 with all proceeds going to Headcount. For more information contact or 615-259-9891.