A bomb thrown at the home of civil rights attorney Z. Alexander Looby on the morning of April 19, 1960, set off a protest like few had ever seen in Nashville. Over 3,000 protestors silently marched three abreast down Jefferson Street, past the Tennessee State Capitol, and ended at the Davidson County Courthouse. There, Nashville Mayor Ben West met the protestors on the steps of the courthouse. Student leaders C.T. Vivian and Diane Nash confronted Mayor West in front of a crowd of marchers that filled the plaza. In response to their pointed questions, the mayor conceded that segregation was immoral and that the city’s lunch counters should be integrated. This was the first major step toward desegregating public accommodations in Nashville. A plaque to recognize this event was placed on the front of the courthouse in 1995.
Witness Walls, located beside the Davidson County Courthouse, was inspired by the people and events that made history in Nashville. For this installation, artist Walter Hood designed sculptural concrete walls with period images to create a site of remembrance and celebration. As visitors walk among the walls, they encounter people of Nashville taking action – through 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. Witness Walls, a project of the Metro Nashville Arts Commission’s Percent for Public Art Program, was dedicated in 2017.