By Michelle Shocklee
An explosion rocked a Nashville neighborhood in the early morning hours of April 19, 1960. The target: the home of NAACP leader, city council member, and famed civil rights attorney Z. Alexander Looby. Nashville would never be the same afterwards.I wasn't born yet when this terrible event happened, but it has touched my world as an author of historical fiction. If you've read my novel Count the Nights by Stars, you know I make reference to it. Tragically, the reason this horrific event happened is as relevant today as it was in the 60s.
Looby was a fast learner with a sharp mind. He worked hard to earn a B.A. degree from Howard University, followed by a law degree from Columbia University. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1926 to work as an assistant professor of economics at Fisk University, an all-black school. Three years later he was admitted to the Tennessee bar and practiced in Memphis for three years. There he met Grafta Mosby, a Memphis schoolteacher, and they married in 1934. The next year, the couple relocated to Nashville where Alexander helped found the Kent College for Law for African Americans.
In the 1940s, Looby was president of the James C. Napier Bar Association, an organization of African American attorneys named for the prominent Nashville political activist. He also began working with the NAACP, specifically on a case involving twenty-three African Americans who had been charged with murder following race riots in Columbia, Tennessee. All of the defendants were acquitted.
Sept. 10, 1957 one day after a black first grader attended school here.
Photo: Bill Preston, The Tennessean
Photo: Nashville Public Library, Special Collections
Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels, including Count the Nights by Stars, winner of the 2023 Christianity Today Book Award, and Under the Tulip Tree, a Christy Awards and Selah Awards finalist. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at www.MichelleShocklee.com