Rev. James M. Lawson, Civil Rights Leader, Leading Theorist of Nonviolent Activism

May 1, 2008
Rev. James Lawson

(Olympia, Wash.) Civil rights leader and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. James M. Lawson will be speaking at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 5 at Temple Beth Hatfiloh, 201 8th Ave SE in Olympia.  Rev. Lawson will talk about building a community that both values activism – to promote better quality of life and greater equity among citizens – and ensures civility and respect for the rights of all.  The event is free and open to the public.  It is sponsored by the City of Olympia, The Evergreen State College, The Hispanic Women’s Network, Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation, Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace, participating members of Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, The Port of Olympia, Unity in the Community, and Veterans for Peace.  For directions to the temple, visit

Lawson is a leading figure in the civil rights movement. On the eve of his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called Lawson "the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world."

Lawson, along with King, helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960. While a Vanderbilt Divinity School student in the early 1960s, he utilized nonviolent protests, in the tradition of Gandhi, in an effort to stop downtown Nashville segregation at lunch counters. As a result of his activities, Lawson was expelled from Vanderbilt. Thirty-six years after his expulsion, Vanderbilt honored Lawson with a Distinguished Alumnus Award for his actions.

In 1961, Lawson coordinated the Freedom Ride, and was the advance staff person for the Birmingham campaign in 1963. He coordinated the Meredith march in Mississippi in 1966, and participated in the 1961-67 Chicago march efforts. Lawson served as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for 14 years, and was chair of the strategy committee for the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, which drew national attention. King was assassinated while supporting that effort.

Lawson, a retired Los Angeles Methodist pastor, has remained outspoken and active in fighting for peace and against racism throughout his career. Rev. Lawson is a lifelong advocate for positive social change through nonviolent means and is currently a Distinguished Visiting Professor and Fellow at Vanderbilt University’s Center for the Study of Religion and Culture. In Los Angeles, he hosted a weekly call-in show, "Lawson Live," where he discussed social and human rights issues affecting minority communities. He spoke out against racism, and he challenged the Cold War and U.S. military involvement in Angola, Cuba, and Central America. Even after his retirement, Lawson protested with the Janitors for Justice in Los Angeles, and with gay and lesbian Methodists in Cleveland.