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Tenn. Board of Regents to Reconsider Honorary Degrees for Freedom Riders


Tennessee’s Board of Regents may reconsider its decision to deny honorary degrees to 13 students who were expelled for participating in the 1961 Freedom Rides.

The Freedom Rides were bus trips designed to challenge segregation in areas of the deep South that were unwilling to accept a Supreme Court order integrating interstate travel facilities.

The board’s 7-5 vote in March against awarding degrees to the former Tennessee State University students brought national media attention.

“There seems to have been a change of heart with some of the other regent members as we have begun to get some more national exposure to the issue,” Regent Judy Gooch told Nashville newspaper The Tennessean.

“What these people did was a contribution to the whole nation. They were part of the tapestry of the civil rights movement.”

Now the board has agreed to discuss taking up the issue again, although it has not set a date for a new vote, board spokeswoman Mary Morgan said.

Board members who voted against awarding the degrees explained their decision by saying honorary degrees are meant to recognize a lifetime of achievement, not a one-time action.

Those asking the board to reconsider its vote include the faculties at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville and Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, both schools that are governed by the board.

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