Fearless Women for Change

By: Emma Vondra

Historically, May has been a month that led to great change in our country year after year. Much of that change is rooted in the rich history and future of Nashville. In May of 1961, the Freedom Riders departed from Washington D.C. with the goal of making it to New Orleans. These brave men and women were met with such horrific violence in Alabama, including the buses they were occupying being set aflame, giving them no choice but to stop. Students in Nashville knew that it was crucial to seize the opportunity and keep pushing for justice. If people saw that violence worked to stop the movement, then the violence was only going to squelch the movement and continue to get worse for future, related events.

The Nashville group of the Freedom Riders (The Nashville 10), were led by the fearless Diane Nash, who continued to rally others to participate in the freedom rides, even in the eyes of intense danger and fury.

Nash’s work did not stop there, though. Later, in the same year, she was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of minors” after urging people to fight for desegregated buses in Mississippi. After receiving incorrect advice from her attorney, Nash surrendered herself to authorities and ended up serving 10-days in jail, all while pregnant. We’re amazed at the fearlessness Ms. Nash consistently conveyed through action. Her leadership style brought people together, sometimes with an understanding

 that their actions could be fatal, to do extraordinarily good work. 

The impact that Nash had on the transportation industry was paramount, which sought to test a 1960 decision by the Supreme Court in Boynton v. Virginia that segregation of interstate transportation facilities, including bus terminals, was unconstitutional. It is more than worth noting as we look at female leaders, within the transportation industry, of today. 

Over 60 years after Nash carved a path for so many, we turn and look at another fearless Nashville woman, Rita Roberts-Turner. Getting her start in the journalism sector, then working to become an attorney, and now, serving in the Serving as the Chief Administrative Officer for WeGo Public Transit. Roberts-Turner’s passion for transit was set in stone after an opportunity  to see the awe in her son’s eyes while experiencing his first bus ride into town. “I likely would not have that memory, or be where I am today, if Ms. Nash (and others) had not done what was needed.”  In Roberts-Turner’s role with WeGo Public Transit, she oversees, marketing/communications, community engagement, planning, procurement, human resources, legal affairs, information technology, security and training. Roberts-Turner’s career path positively impacts the community with each step, always putting the needs of others at the highest priority in all feats. It’s these fearless professional decisions – to tirelessly improve the community – that makes Roberts-Turner so remarkable.

Fearless is defined as “without fear; bold or brave; intrepid.” The adjectives within that definition fit in line beautifully with the stories of both women highlighted. It is passionate and driven individuals like Nash and Roberts-Turner who have worked endlessly to create an environment that provides equitable access to transit inside Music City and the country.