Nash initially attended historically-black Howard University in Washington, D.C., then transferred to Fisk University, another historically-black college in Nashville, Tennessee. Although she had experienced discrimination in Chicago, she soon received her first taste of Southern segregation. During a visit to the State Fair, Nash saw bathrooms marked “White” and “Colored”. Looking back at this important time in her life, Nash recalled in an interview:
“My stepfather was a waiter on the railroads and he had to make trips to the South. He would tell about the segregated facilities down there. I believed him and listened to the stories, but I think it was an intellectual understanding. But when I actually got down there and saw signs, it really hit me that I wasn’t ‘supposed’ to go into this restroom or use a particular facility, then I understood it emotionally as well.”
She was determined to see a change.
Nash was involved in some of the most successful actions of the civil rights era, which included the first successful protest to desegregate lunch counters, known as the Nashville Sit-ins; the Freedom Riders movement to desegregate interstate travel; the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (also known as SNCC); and the Selma Voting Rights Movement, which resulted in African-Americans getting the vote and political power throughout the South.