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School that expelled Freedom Riders wants to honor them


Tennessee State University wants to give honorary degrees to 14 students who were expelled for participating in the 1961 Freedom Rides.

The 14 students were put on disciplinary probation after they were arrested during a civil rights protest in Jackson, Miss., in May 1961. Protesters gathered across Nashville on the students’ behalf, but they were not allowed to return to TSU.

Two years ago, a group of then-current TSU students began researching the expelled students with the idea of awarding the degrees.

That idea gained momentum during January’s “Freedom Ride 2007” when buses loaded with current students from Vanderbilt, TSU and Fisk University plus some of the original Freedom Riders traveled to Alabama towns involved in the civil rights movement.

One possible snag is that the Tennessee Board of Regents allows no more than two honorary degrees a year.

TSU must ask for a waiver to the rule, a board spokeswoman said, and the regents could vote on it at their September meeting.

Other Nashville Freedom Riders have received honors recently.

Diane Nash was given an honorary doctor of humanities degree by Fisk University in May and the Rev. James Lawson, who was expelled from Vanderbilt in 1960 for his participation in civil rights protests, returned to the school this past year as a visiting distinguished professor.

Information from: The Tennessean,

–Associated Press

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