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The Story (part 1)
The Beginning of School Desegregation in Nashville
A Narrative by John Egerton

At high noon, Nashville time, on Monday, May 17, 1954, all nine justices of the United States Supreme Court in Washington joined in a declaration that legally-sanctioned racial segregation in the public schools is a violation of the U. S. Constitution's promise of equal protection of the laws.

The unanimous decision, covering five consolidated cases known collectively as Brown v. Board of Education (for plaintiff Oliver Brown and his daughter Linda of Topeka, Kansas), was to have enormous consequences in eleven Southern states, where compulsory separation of the races carried the dual sanctions of law and social custom, and in ten other “border” states and the District of Columbia, where an inconsistent mish-mash of segregation laws remained in place. Eventually, public education systems throughout the country would be affected by the historic ruling.

It could be persuasively argued that Brown was the most important legal principle to be shaped by the Supreme Court in the twentieth century, because it ended for all time an unarticulated presumption that some Americans were more (or less) entitled to the legal rights of citizenship than others. Not just students seeking quality and equality in education but citizens pursuing fair treatment in all walks of life have benefited from the court’s interpretation of the U. S. Constitution in Brown v. Board of Education.

Within hours of the 1954 decision, two Nashville attorneys representing the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) formally asked the city’s Board of Education to end segregation forthwith. Z. Alexander Looby, the chief NAACP attorney in Tennessee and one of two black members of the Nashville City Council, had been practicing law in the city for more than 25 years. His young associate, Avon N. Williams Jr., would later become Tennessee's top civil rights lawyer and a standout state senator. They worked closely on racial discrimination cases with Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP's national legal director, lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the Brown case, and later to become a justice of the U. S. Supreme Court.

Practically speaking, there were four public school systems in the Nashville metropolitan area in 1954: separate but overlapping districts for whites and blacks in the city proper, under Superintendent W. A. Bass, and similarly split districts in surrounding Davidson County, under Superintendent J. E. Moss. In round numbers, there were about 10,000 black students and 20,000 whites in the city schools; enrollment in the county system was also about 30,000, and 90 percent were white. The city’s overall population at mid-decade was estimated to be about 175,000 (80 percent white) and falling; the county was near 150,000 and rising, and soon would be the larger of the two.

In each of the school systems, every facility that served blacks was clearly separate, but no fair-minded person would have called any of them equal to the schools reserved for whites. By almost any measure save one— the dedication of teachers—whites enjoyed special advantages: better buildings and equipment, newer textbooks, higher levels of teacher training, smaller pupil-teacher ratios, closer administrative and school-board oversight.

The superintendents told Looby and Williams that they would study the Supreme Court ruling and await further instructions promised by the court. Nashville Mayor Ben West also wanted more time to digest the decision, but he offered a conciliatory response. "Our people are law-abiding citizens," he said. "We have no other thought except to conform to the law of the land." County Judge Beverly Briley expressed confidence that any problems brought about by the decision could be worked out in due course at the local level.

As the summer of 1954 passed, it became increasingly clear that no desegregation would take place in Nashville’s public schools that fall. (The city's dozen or so Catholic schools did remove their racial barriers to admissions at that time, though, under a decree signed by the local bishop, and the demonstration school at George Peabody College for Teachers also desegregated promptly, but no other private schools followed suit.) A biracial and advisory Citizens Committee for Public Schools was formed, and various religious, educational, and civic groups expressed public support for the principle of equity. In late summer, two white professors at historically black Fisk University, the only unsegregated liberal arts college in the city, asked the school board to permit their children to enroll at black schools near the campus, but the board denied the request, saying that no cross-racial transfers would be approved until the Supreme Court issued more instructions.

Near the end of May, 1955, in a follow-up ruling that would be known as “Brown II,” the Supreme Court gave school districts some latitude to work out their desegregation plans locally, "with all deliberate speed," under supervision of the federal district courts. The NAACP attorneys promptly petitioned Nashville’s school officials to begin the desegregation process, but again, the Board of Education took no formal action. On the first day of the new term that fall, several black students attempted to enroll in white schools near their homes, but all were refused admission.

Soon thereafter, on September 23, 1955, Looby, Williams, and Marshall filed suit against the Nashville city schools on behalf of 21 African-American children, one of whom was 14-year-old Robert W. Kelley, who had been turned away from East Junior High School. His father, A. Z. Kelley, a barber, agreed to be the lead plaintiff, so the case was named Kelley v. Board of Education. (By historical coincidence, this action came a hundred years after the opening of Nashville's first public school, Hume High and Grammar School, for white boys and girls, in September 1855; Trimble, the city’s first school for blacks, was opened in 1870, during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era.)

After hearing the complaint from the NAACP lawyers and the school board’s plea for more time, Federal District Court Judge William E. Miller gave the schools six more months to draw up a plan that would comply with the Supreme Court’s desegregation decrees. Then, in March of 1956, the school board offered for discussion a tentative plan that would begin desegregation in the first grade the following fall. The plaintiffs' attorneys responded by agreeing to the plan if the entire process could be completed within a fixed period—say, five years, as the Evansville, Indiana, school system had done in 1949-54—but the Nashville board wanted a slower pace of one grade a year.

With the two sides at an impasse, Judge Miller scheduled another hearing for later in the summer. Emboldened by such delays in Nashville and elsewhere, segregationists were stepping up their opposition across the South. In the spring of 1956, nineteen of the twenty-two Southern members of the U. S. Senate (excepting only Lyndon Johnson of Texas and Tennessee’s Estes Kefauver and Albert Gore Sr.) signed a manifesto in defiance of the Supreme Court’s desegregation rulings. State legislatures from Virginia to Texas passed a flurry of new laws aimed at tightening restrictions on black rights and shoring up the walls of white privilege. That fall, in a few upper-South communities, modest steps toward ending segregation were met with fierce resistance. The fight to preserve white supremacy was like a gathering storm that would eventually engulf the entire South, and Tennessee, no less than the others, was bound to be caught in it.

The state legislature flirted with repeal of its compulsory school attendance laws, even though Governor Frank Clement warned that he would veto any such move. Prominent officials from the more openly rebellious Deep South states came to make fiery speeches in Nashville, exhorting Caucasians to rise up and defend their racial privileges at all costs. Units of the Ku Klux Klan and the newly-formed Citizens Council, a sort of white-collar Klan then springing up across the South, held well-publicized meetings in the city. In the forefront of opposition groups locally was the Tennessee Federation for Constitutional Government (TFCG), about which little was known except that it had close ties to the white Citizens Council; its chairman was a famed Vanderbilt University writer and English professor, Donald Davidson.

The local lines of division in this intensifying national debate were sharply drawn at a public hearing before the Nashville School Board in early March of 1956. An overflow crowd of intensely interested citizens (racially mixed), was told at the outset that the nine-member board had already decided it would not offer any specific desegregation plan at an upcoming hearing on the pending lawsuit in federal district court.

That stance was immediately endorsed from the floor by TFCG chairman Davidson, who asserted that under the doctrine of “states’ rights,” neither the school board nor the federal courts had any legal authority to override the Tennessee legislature’s standing laws requiring strict segregation of the races.

If such “defiant actions” were to be attempted, Davidson warned, “The capital city of Tennessee would become an uneasy island of integration surrounded by a tumultuous ocean of protest and discontent.” But others of local prominence urged the board to move toward change.

Attorney Whitworth Stokes, president of the Citizens Committee for Public Schools, said “a host of moderate-thinking people . . . will applaud you if you adopt this plan” of gradual desegregation beginning with the first grade. Another Vanderbilt professor, John Compton, said the question before the board was not whether but when to implement the order of the Supreme Court, “as a matter of justice that has been decided.” No members of the school board offered any public response to the speakers.

A week later, in federal court, the board formally appealed for more time to study and prepare for orderly change. Over the objections of the plaintiffs, the court granted the request, which meant that another school year would begin without the first step being taken to desegregate the system. Seeing this third straight year of delay as a major victory, the fired-up opponents of desegregation celebrated with a motorcade through Nashville accented by blaring horns, Confederate flags, and signs reading SOUTHERN WHITES ARE THE NEGROES’ BEST FRIENDS . . . BUT NO INTEGRATION.

The campaign of relentless pressure on school administrators and board members intensified through the summer, and the beleaguered officials were further vexed in the fall of 1956 when reports of violence at a desegregating high school in the east Tennessee town of Clinton grabbed national headlines.

Brown Comes to Tennessee

As late as 1950, one-third of Tennessee’s counties provided no high school opportunity at all for black students; only those teenagers willing to pay tuition and commute daily to an all-black facility in another county had any chance of earning a high-school diploma. To rectify this, a group of black parents in Clinton, the seat of Anderson County, sued the school board that year for their children’s right to attend the local high school. (Their attorneys were Avon Williams and Z. Alexander Looby of the NAACP, who would file the Nashville desegregation suit five years later.)

As the Clinton case slowly worked its way through the trial and appeals stages, the Supreme Court was assembling for joint review the cases that would be decided in Brown v. Board of Education. Clinton might well have been one of those—but ironically, by the time desegregation was started there in 1956, it was not even the first school system in Anderson County to remove racial barriers. That happened in September 1955, when Oak Ridge, the sprawling nuclear research facility nearby (a federal installation not subject to state and local governance), merged its separate white and black schools into an integrated system.

The Anderson County story is relevant to what was about to happen in Nashville for other reasons, beyond the fact that both lawsuits were filed by the same team of attorneys. First, Governor Frank Clement and his attorney general, Roy A. Beeler, supported compliance with the law in both places. (As early as August 1954, Beeler publicly proposed that desegregation in Tennessee schools be started without delay and carried out one grade at a time.)

The character of the opposition was also consistent. In Clinton and Oak Ridge, as later in Nashville, the first sign of resistance came from white men who claimed to represent the Tennessee Federation for Constitutional Government, quickly followed by members of the Citizens Council and the Ku Klux Klan. And the single most dominant personality in both counties during their times of crisis was an audacious outsider: Frederick John Kasper, a tall, handsome, 26-year-old firebrand whose drawl and dress (white shirt and tie, tan suit with matching Texas-style hat) concealed his evolving identity as a well-traveled professional agitator from New Jersey.

The picture of Kasper that eventually emerged was a dense tangle of contradictions. At various times he claimed to be president of the Tennessee Citizens Council and an official of the TFCG. His “little black book” held the names and phone numbers of Klansmen and other racial extremists all over the eastern United States. He was said to have earned a degree from Columbia University, operated bookshops in New York and Washington, and befriended the radical poet Ezra Pound, then confined to a mental institution. Kasper, like Pound, was bluntly anti-Semitic—but for reasons unclear, he was openly supportive and friendly toward African Americans until the early 1950s, when a new and menacing personality seemed to take over: Kasper became a rabid racist, burning to make a niche for himself as a roving troublemaker whose mission it was “to protect and defend the purity of the white race.”

In his first swing through the South in the spring of 1956, Kasper found receptive audiences for his message of militant white supremacy. That fall, as the approach of school desegregation in Tennessee was being reported in the national media, the young rebel hurried to Clinton. He almost succeeded in blocking the admission of a dozen black students to the high school there, but the local leadership was ready and willing to obey the law. So while Donald Davidson was sending TFCG lawyers into state court in Knoxville to press for restoration of segregation by legal means (a strategy that would prove fruitless), Kasper was out in the streets of Clinton, 30 miles away, stirring up fury among disgruntled whites eager to answer the law with brute force.

Within two days, this mob had taken on a life of its own. They soon overwhelmed the six-man Clinton police force and a hastily summoned auxiliary of deputized citizens. Governor Clement responded swiftly, first with scores of state troopers and finally, at the end of a chaotic week, with a battle-ready unit of over 600 soldiers from the Tennessee National Guard. They quickly retook the town from the anarchists, staying on patrol there for almost two weeks. During this surreal encounter, Kasper and dozens of his followers were arrested, bailed out, arrested again, charged, tried, acquitted, indicted, charged again, convicted, sentenced, and released on bond while awaiting appeal. Meanwhile, the black students remained at Clinton High School, and the entire town seemed to drift unsteadily into a post-traumatic state of shock.

Eventually, some of the federal charges brought against Kasper—conspiracy, incitement to riot, contempt of court—would be made to stick, and he would be sent to prison for his east Tennessee misdeeds. Until then, he never lacked for money to post bail or appeal a conviction, and even the federal authorities found it hard to put him in jail and keep him there. From the time he first came to the state in the summer of 1956 until he was sent to a federal prison in Georgia in May of 1958, Kasper was usually in Tennessee but only rarely in custody. As a freelance provocateur, his services were in demand by one segregationist group or another—the TFCG, the Citizens Council, the Klan. He was living in Knoxville in the spring of 1957 when news came that a federal judge in the state capital was preparing a desegregation order for the local schools. The prospect proved irresistible to Kasper. Nashville was only a three-hour drive away.

The Nashville Plan

Anticipating Judge Miller’s almost-certain approval of a grade-a-year desegregation plan to begin in September 1957, Superintendent Bass was by then convinced that the time for change was at hand. The Supreme Court had twice ruled unanimously against segregation, yet three years of local argumentation had yielded nothing; if the Nashville school board sought any further delay, Bass reasoned, they would have both the plaintiffs and the courts to answer to. On the other hand, pushing ahead on desegregation was bound to stir the wrath of many white parents, and perhaps draw militant outside forces to the city.

Three years earlier, it had been moderate citizens of both races who seemed to be in the forefront of desegregation discussions, and the talk was mostly about when and how court orders should be honored. But over the months and years, the debate subtly shifted. People in the middle were being pulled to one side or the other, where the most extreme choices inevitably came down to just two: complete integration now, or total segregation forever.

The former had no vocal constituency; the latter was being pushed hard by the now-familiar phalanx of radical white supremacists, all energized by a feeling of certitude that time was on their side.

William Bass was uncomfortable with such all-or-nothing polarity. His way was consensus—bringing people together, building mutual respect, and giving opponents room to work out their differences in a spirit of fairness and equity. Bass was looking ahead to his retirement at the end of 1957. His successor, already chosen, was to be Assistant Superintendent W. H. Oliver, who also served as principal of East High School. Through the fall and spring of the 1956-57 school year, the two men patiently guided the school board toward approval of a process by which desegregation would begin in the first grade in 1957 and extend it to all twelve grades by 1968. Certain white elementary schools would be told to admit any black first-graders who lived within their zones. (Nothing was said about how rezoning would affect the black schools to which those children would have gone, or about whites moving into black schools, or about other biracial elementary school zones not made a part of the desegregation plan.)

To further soften the impact of these gradual changes, a liberal transfer policy would be introduced, allowing students whose race was in the minority in their newly-assigned schools to opt for a majority-status alternative—that is, choose to remain in segregation. (This provision was later disallowed by the federal courts.)

With the only black member of the board, attorney Coyness Ennix, casting the lone dissenting vote, this plan was approved and presented to Judge Miller in the spring of 1957. The NAACP attorneys called it "completely inadequate," noting among other things that it would deny any relief to Robert Kelley and the named plaintiffs, because all were in higher grades. Judge Miller, while expressing reservations of his own, reluctantly ordered the plan to be implemented in September 1957, with more specific adjustments to be made later. The plaintiffs appealed, but no delay was permitted. (Two years later, the U. S. Supreme Court would give its tacit consent to the Nashville plan; by then, it had become a model of sorts for some other Southern school systems seeking a minimal approach to desegregation that would satisfy the court’s “all deliberate speed” standard.)

As September approached, the school board and administration under Bass and Oliver seemed prepared for this first small step toward racial equity. They heard encouraging words from Governor Clement and Mayor West, who never wavered in their commitment to the rule of law. The all-white and segregation-minded Tennessee legislature passed several bills aimed at blocking desegregation, but most were either vetoed by Clement or declared unconstitutional by the courts. For all their vocal railing against any change in the racial status quo, the state lawmakers could find no effective means of stalling court-ordered desegregation, and neither the Nashville city council nor the Tennessee delegation in Congress actively attempted to prevent Nashville or any other school system in the state from going ahead with its plans.

Until late in July, there seemed to be a general expectation around the city that Nashville’s schools—and the community at large—would eventually accept the judgment of the federal courts and quietly lower the barrier of segregation. To be sure, a great many white residents still objected to such a change, and enough of them had expressed their displeasure in public to leave the impression that they spoke for a majority. Those who favored desegregation, white and black alike, were less vocal, making their numbers appear smaller. There were no opinion polls to measure public sentiment—but the courts had spoken, and the political and educational leadership had quietly accepted that judgment. With the opening of schools just six weeks off, change seemed inevitable.

Nashville was almost 180 years old in 1957 (its founding had coincided with that of the American nation), and it wore its age with a certain patrician pride. Early in its frontier history, an admiring local citizen had dubbed it “the Athens of the West” (later remapped to the South by the Civil War and other changes of geography and perspective). Its leaders liked that image; it called to mind a place of reasonable and civic-minded people, of moderately progressive conservatives. In the war of rebellion, Nashville had spread its sympathies in both directions, sending hundreds of its own residents, white and black, to fight and die for the Union Blue as well as the Confederate Gray. It was not a place of extremes, but of the center. Had they been left to their own devices, some Nashvillians apparently believed, they could have worked out their racial problems amicably and equitably.

Such an opportunity for compromise and reconciliation never blossomed in the Nashville of that war-wracked era, and in the postwar period of Reconstruction and beyond, the dream of full citizenship for former slaves soon turned to dust. Slavery was gone, but so was the promise of economic and political freedom; every Southern state passed laws mandating racial segregation in a “separate but equal” society that assured Caucasians of perpetual advantage in every station of life—in political parties, churches and hospitals, from birth to schooling to the workplace and even the graveyard.

But decades later, in the fall of 1957, a new opportunity was at hand. The elusive ideal of racial equality, often glimpsed but rarely grasped in the United States, was once again coming into focus for Nashvillians—and this time, it was going to be reflected in the quietly serious faces of a few brown-skinned six-year-olds. Powerful forces were rallying to one side or the other, for the children or against them. A fundamental principle of American democracy, as interpreted by the nation’s highest court, was about to be applied, and Nashville would be an early testing ground—one of the first of the South’s cities to put into motion a comprehensive plan for the desegregation of its public schools, and the only one to that date with a strategy of building from the bottom up, one grade at a time.

Resistance and Resolve

In the sultry heat of late July, more than a month before the beginning of the new school term in Nashville, John Kasper seemed to emerge out of nowhere as the sparkplug of a string of protest rallies in the city. He claimed to be president of the Tennessee Citizens Council, but reporters quickly learned that he was the “outside agitator” who had stirred up a rebellion in Clinton (where he was still causing turmoil with a “White Nationalist” newspaper called the Clinton-Knox County Stars and Bars). “I’m not through up there,” Kasper told an audience in Alabama. “It may mean going back to jail, but I’m going back to fight.” First, though, he turned toward Nashville, and soon the local rhetoric was as hot as the stifling summer air.

The school board’s attorneys advised their clients on August 1 that there was no way to dodge the start of desegregation, saying in effect that it would be safer and wiser to begin—and shift the blame to “a meddling federal court”— than to refuse and risk being held in contempt by Judge Miller. The board and administration unanimously accepted this advice. Then, perhaps to placate their more vocal critics, they gave Kasper a forum at their meeting on August 8, and sat glumly as he read them a long list of criticisms and demands that included a call for the board’s mass resignation in protest of the court order.

Kasper also announced that the Tennessee Citizens Council and units of the
Ku Klux Klan would soon hold a mass rally in Centennial Park. By then even some of his former allies, including the TFCG, were becoming wary of Kasper. A local Klan leader, Emmett Carr, told a reporter that “one or all three of these things about him is true: He’s an integrationist working backward, a government agent, or he hasn’t got all his marbles.”

On another front, a delegation of more than a hundred people calling themselves the Parents School Preference Committee went to see Mayor West, telling him they intended to boycott the schools if desegregation was allowed, and demanding that he endorse their defiance. West not only refused, but told his visitors—with reporters present—that his six-year-old son, Jay, would enter the first grade that fall at Ransom School, in their home neighborhood. Ransom was one of fifteen schools on the published list of prospective desegregation sites.

The Nashville Community Relations Council, a biracial group of moderates and activists, published the names of almost a thousand people who pledged their support for the grade-a-year desegregation plan. In response, a coalition of white groups handed the school board stacks of pages containing an estimated 6,000 signatures in opposition to any sort of desegregation. Some Protestant churches and civic clubs formally pledged support to one side or the other, but by far the most such institutions and groups avoided taking a stand.

Through the weeks of emotional give and take, there was little doubt that most white Nashvillians opposed desegregation, but in the main, theirs was a “passive resistance” characterized by indirect action and foot-dragging tactics. It was rare in Nashville for deep and serious disagreement on social issues such as this to spill out into public displays of animosity or hostility. Elsewhere in the South, white reaction to the remotest prospect of racial change, especially in the public schools, tended to be more extreme and unrelenting. The commonly used descriptive term for such all-out hostility was “massive resistance.”

A special pre-registration of first-graders was announced for August 27. When a small number of black parents and their six-year-old children arrived at five soon-to-be desegregated schools, white demonstrators organized by Kasper were already marching around the buildings. Some of them carried signs proclaiming segregation to be “the will of God,” a basic right of white people, and a patriotic duty under the flags of the United States and the old Confederacy. In this tense environment, only thirteen black children were registered. With Kasper, the Klan, the Citizens Council, and others of the same persuasion roaming the city under the watchful eyes of Nashville police—and with special security teams shadowing some public officials who had received anonymous threats—the countdown to September 9, the first day of school, proceeded in an atmosphere of mounting anxiety.

And, to make matters worse, trouble was also brewing elsewhere in the South. On September 4, Governor Orval Faubus precipitated a major crisis when he called out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent nine black students from enrolling at all-white Central High School in Little Rock. Before that conflict ended, the President of the United States would have to nationalize the guard and send additional U. S. Army troops to the beleaguered school to protect the new enrollees from raging mobs of whites. On the same day that desegregation began in Nashville, a combined total of twelve black teenagers gained admission to previously all-white high schools in the North Carolina cities of Charlotte, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem, in spite of disruptive opposition. And in Birmingham that day, a black minister and his wife, with their teenage daughters, were set upon by a mob of white men outside the segregated high school to which they had gone hoping to enroll the two girls. Police were present but did nothing to protect the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and his family, who barely managed to escape without serious injury.

Nashville’s power structure—its political and economic elite, exclusively male and Caucasian—saw themselves and their city in a different light: as segregationists, to be sure, and as champions of white privilege, but not as militant, violent reactionaries prepared to abandon the rule of law in order to perpetuate the many racial inequities that supported the “Southern way of life.” Official Nashville was not willing to defy the federal courts; instead, it was offering, three years after the Brown decree, a modestly crafted desegregation plan that was the essence of tokenism—and its school leaders, politicians, police officials, and opinion-makers (including the morning Tennessean and the more conservative Nashville Banner) reacted with varying degrees of acquiescence.

Out of an estimated 1,400 black children expected to begin the first grade, only 126—one in a hundred—had been declared eligible for rezoning to fifteen all-white elementary schools closer to their homes than the nearest all-black one—and more than three-fourths of those families eventually requested transfers to avoid the change. Some black parents received anonymous threats on the phone or in the mail; others were told that their jobs would be in jeopardy if they sent their children to white schools. The success or failure of Nashville’s first step on the long road of desegregation would depend in the end not on white acceptance but on black courage. When Monday, September 9, 1957, finally rolled around, only nineteen apprehensive black six-year-olds walked with their adult escorts past agitated crowds of whites to present themselves for admission at seven previously all-white elementary schools. (Earlier that summer, administrators released a list of 15 white elementary schools identified as having six-year-old black children living within their zones. Later, based on pre-registration and canvassing data, only six of those were categorized as schools where desegregation was “probable” on opening day; by that date, the number had risen to eight. See statistical data in Appendix.)

In the waning days and hours before that Monday, the loudest voice in town belonged to John Kasper, the outsider. He had enlisted the help of a defrocked Presbyterian minister named Fred Stroud for a last-ditch effort to stop desegregation in its tracks at the schoolhouse door. Stroud, previously dismissed by one Nashville congregation, had started another called Bible Presbyterian Church. To him, segregation was the binding will of God, and his mission was to preserve it or die trying. Kasper had no such religious or messianic motivations, but he saw Stroud as an indispensable ally among the local white citizenry.

A few blacks may have been registered, Kasper told a crowd of about 300 followers outside the War Memorial Building on the eve of school opening, but "blood will run in the streets of Nashville if nigra children go to school with whites!" A rallying cry swelled up from the crowd: “Not one, not now, not ever!” Police officers, including some in plain clothes, were scattered throughout, stone-faced in response to the fiery rhetoric but alert to any signs of violence. Kasper saved his most provocative words for rump sessions after the Capitol Hill crowd had dispersed.

“Our country was born in violence,” he told them. “Tomorrow is the day. Every blow that you strike will be a blow for freedom.” In another context, he was more explicit: “I say that integration can be reversed. It has got to be a pressure down here which is more or less like a lit stick of dynamite, and you throw it in their laps and let them catch it, and then they can do what they want with it—let them worry about that.”

Police Chief Douglas Hosse issued a general warning that disorderly conduct would not be tolerated anywhere near the schools, and he stressed that “all parents can be assured of their children’s safety.” Hosse cancelled all personnel leaves and assigned 200 officers—nearly two-thirds of the entire force—to work twelve-hour shifts in the vicinity of the desegregating schools. Mayor West expressed confidence that all would go as intended. Superintendents Bass and Oliver urged “kindness and fairness for all,” calling on teachers and school employees to "carry out the mandate of the federal court with the highest respect for law and order . . . and the welfare of every little child, white and black.”

Writing in the Sunday New York Times, reporter Robert Alden sketched a city holding its breath. “No one knows what is going to happen tomorrow, or how much support the segregationists will be able to draw from the general white population.” Nashville, he wrote, “is by nature a law-abiding city.”

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