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Ben West (1911-1974)

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Mayor Ben West, 1960.

When sit-ins aimed at desegregating Nashville's lunch counters began in February 1960, the city's mayor, Ben West, was angry with the students leading them. The sit-ins were seriously hurting business downtown. But West's attitude changed when sit-in opponents turned to violence, blowing up the home of an attorney who had defended the students in court. Later that same day, 2,500 students marched to city hall. When questioned there by student leader Diane Nash, West said it was wrong to refuse someone service because of his or her race. The next day's Nashville Tennessean headline read, "Mayor Says Integrate Counters," and within three weeks the voluntary desegregation of those counters had begun.

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