Over the course of the Nashville sit-in campaign, sit-ins were staged at numerous stores in the central business district. Sit-in participants, who consisted mainly of black college students, were often verbally or physically attacked by white onlookers. Despite their refusal to retaliate, over 150 students were eventually arrested for refusing to vacate store lunch counters when ordered to do so by police. At trial, the students were represented by a group of 13 lawyers, headed by Z. Alexander Looby. On April 19, Looby's home was bombed, although he escaped uninjured. Later that day, nearly 4000 people marched to City Hall to confront Mayor Ben West about the escalating violence. When asked if he believed the lunch counters in Nashville should be desegregated, West agreed that they should. After subsequent negotiations between the store owners and protest leaders, an agreement was reached during the first week of May. On May 10, six downtown stores began serving black customers at their lunch counters for the first time.
Although the initial campaign successfully desegregated downtown lunch counters, sit-ins, pickets, and protests against other segregated facilities continued in Nashville until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended overt, legally sanctioned segregation nationwide. Many of the organizers of the Nashville sit-ins went on to become important leaders in the Civil Rights Movement.
In Nashville, like most Southern cities, African Americans were severely disadvantaged under the system of Jim Crow segregation. Besides being relegated to underfunded schools and barred from numerous public accommodations, African Americans had few prospects for skilled employment and were subject to constant discrimination from the white majority.
Although serious efforts were made to oppose Jim Crow laws in Nashville as early as 1905,[note 1] it was not until 1958, with the formation of the Nashville Christian Leadership Council, that Nashville's African American community would lay the foundation for dismantling racial segregation.