Prolific Civil Rights Leader Passes Away at 95

( – On June 9th, a leader of the Civil Rights Movement, the Rev. James Lawson Jr., 95, died in Los Angeles, California, following a brief illness.

Born in 1928 in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, he grew up in Massillon, Ohio. Lawson traveled to India for missionary work in 1952 with the Methodist Church, where he studied Mahatma Gandhi’s use of nonviolence.

In 1957, when both were 28 years old, Lawson met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and the two bonded over their admiration for Gandhi’s independence movement. King urged Lawson to use the lessons he learned during his three-year trip to India in the south. Lawson transferred to Vanderbilt University and, from church basements in Nashville, Tennessee, began leading workshops about peacefully challenging racist policies and laws, preparing people such as the Freedom Riders, John Lewis, Bernard Lafayette, Diane Nash, and Marion Barry for peaceful protests.

Lawson became a close adviser to King, who referred to Lawson as “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.”

Due to Lawson’s workshops, on May 10th, 1960, Nashville became the first major southern city to desegregate its downtown by organizing lunch counter sit-ins. Vanderbilt expelled Lawson for his role in organizing the lunch counter sit-ins. Lawson also organized the sanitation workers’ strike in 1968 in Memphis, where King was assassinated, and then led the silent march to honor King after his assassination.

After King’s assassination, Lawson continued his work with civil rights groups, such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

From 1974 to 1999, Lawson was the pastor of Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, where he continued to hold workshops on nonviolence until he was in his 90s.

He was also a professor at California State University, Northridge, and the University of California Los Angeles’ College of Social Sciences. According to the University of California Los Angeles officials, Lawson was “one of the most impactful social justice leaders of the twentieth century.”

Nash, who was 21 when she attended Lawson’s workshops, stated, “His passing constitutes a very great loss.”

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