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Rev. Dr. James Lawson, Jr. (b.1928)

Reverend Dr. James Lawson was born on September 22, 1928. He was raised in Massillon, Ohio, and received his ministry license in 1947. Lawson attended Baldwin Wallace before his ministry led him to India, where he learned nonviolent resistance techniques taught by Gandhi’s followers. While attending graduate school at Oberlin College, one of his professors introduced him to guest speaker Martin Luther King, Jr. King convinced Lawson to move south to lead the nonviolence resistance to tackle segregation. Lawson moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and enrolled at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School, but was later expelled in 1960 for his civil rights-related arrests.

In the late 1950s, Lawson conducted nonviolence training workshops for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and served as the southern director for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Lawson’s students included future Civil Rights leaders like Diane Nash, James Bevel, Bernard Lafayette, Marion Barry, and John Lewis. Lawson's students led movements like the sit-ins, Freedom Rides, March on Washington, Chicago Freedom Movement, and many more.

With so many groups protesting segregation in a variety of ways, it became apparent that coordination was needed, which led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), of which Lawson would be the chief nonviolence tutor. Martin Luther King, Jr. called Lawson “the greatest teacher of nonviolence in America.” Reverend Dr. James Lawson formed the James Lawson Institute in 2012 to teach nonviolent techniques.

Read more: Photo by Jeff McAdory/The Commercial Appeal

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