Re-enactment of sit-in trials marks Law Day 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 11:33am
Staff reports

Local bar associations will celebrate Law Day 2010 Tuesday by honoring local attorneys who defended lunch counter sit-in demonstrators in Nashville courts in 1960.

Members of the Nashville Bar Association, Napier-Looby Bar Association and the Nashville Bar Foundation planned to gather at 11:15 a.m. on the historic Metro Courthouse lawn for a luncheon.

Dennis Archer, the first African-American president of the American Bar Association, former mayor of Detroit and former member of the Michigan Supreme Court, was scheduled to deliver the keynote address.

Following the luncheon, the NBA was to re-enact the trials of the sit-in demonstrators in a special continuing legal education program for lawyers. The NBA planned to record the re-enactment and donate a copy of it to the Nashville Public Library for public viewing.

The defense team in the 1960 proceedings was described as a “who’s who” of Nashville leaders — including Z. Alexander Looby and Robert Lillard (both Nashville city council members), Coyness Ennix (a member of the school board), Looby's partner Avon Williams (the namesake of the downtown campus of TSU), a young A.A. Birch (who would later become chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court and namesake of the new criminal courthouse), and George Barrett (who would become a prominent plaintiff's and civil rights attorney).

“Almost all of the lawyers representing the demonstrators have passed away, and we believe that Chief Justice A.A. Birch and George Barrett may be the only surviving lawyers of the defense team to now receive the recognition they so deserve for defending justice in the face of unfavorable public opinion,” Jonathan Cole, president of the Nashville Bar Association, was quoted in a news release.

“These lawyers placed their professional reputations, lives and even their families at risk in taking on the cases, which at the time polarized the city of Nashville.”