US Civil Rights Icon James Lawson Passes Away At Age 95


At the age of 95, James Lawson, a black civil rights leader who advised Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on strategy and went to India to research peaceful protest, passed away.

Methodist clergyman Lawson preached the civil disobedience teachings of Mahatma Gandhi to demonstrators against racial segregation in the United States.

Through his courses, he taught innumerable activists how to reveal the immorality of racism by calmly resisting police brutality and threats from enraged white mobs and the police.

King frequently complimented his strategies, referring to him as one of the great “noblemen” of the American black struggle in a speech the day before he was assassinated.

King also referred to his ally as “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world,” having first met Lawson when they were both 28 years old.

Lawson passed away in his home city of Los Angeles, his family said on Monday.
Born in 1928 in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, he was the grandson and son of clergymen.

When Lawson was eight years old, he slapped a child who had called him a racist insult, which inspired him to study non-violence, according to Lawson.

His passivist mother questioned him about “what good” his response had become. He swore he would never settle a disagreement by violence.

Early on, his nonviolent ideals were tested when, while attending college, he declined to enlist in the US Army to fight in the Korean War.

Lawson was imprisoned for 13 months after he avoided the draft. After graduation, he went to Nagpur, India, to work as a missionary to research Gandhi’s resistance strategies.

He spent three years in India before returning to the US and enrolling at Oberlin College in Ohio, where he eventually met King, another Methodist priest.

At the time of his nonviolent beliefs, black communities were divided in their approaches to combating systemic racism and segregation.

King persuaded Lawson to relocate to Nashville so that he could attend Vanderbilt University and start instructing peaceful protestors.

Several of his pupils, including future congressman John Lewis and future mayor of Washington, DC, Marion Barry, went on to play significant roles in the civil rights movement.

Following King’s murder in 1968, Lawson got to know and ultimately became friends with the man found guilty of killing him.

“Martin King would have gone to visit him. I knew this,” he said of James Earl Ray, King’s killer.

Later, Lawson performed Ray’s prison marriage and began to think that King’s death was not entirely his fault.

He was also a founding member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organization crucial to the 1960s racial equality movements.

In a 2020 speech during the funeral of John Lewis, Lawson said “Many of us had no choice to do what we tried to do, primarily because at an early age we recognized the wrong under which we were forced to live”.

“And we swore to God that by God’s grace, we would do whatever God called us to do to put on the table of the nation’s agenda.

“This must end. Black lives matter.”

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