Rev. James Lawson Jr.

Rev. James Lawson Jr. was a central figure during the Civil Rights Movement, serving as a teacher in the pursuit of social justice in a nonviolent manner. His impact was profound in expanding the influence of nonviolent activism throughout America.

James Lawson was born on September 22, 1928, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. He came from a deeply religious household, as his father and grandfather were Methodist ministers and his mother a devout Methodist. In his senior year of high school, he received his ministry license. He attended Baldwin-Wallace College, where, as a freshman, he was drafted to serve in the U.S. military. He refused to serve, leading to his eventual conviction for draft evasion and him being sentenced to two years in prison. He only served 13 months of his sentence before being released.  

Soon after, Lawson joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation, in which A.J. Muste served as the executive secretary, during his time at Baldwin-Wallace College. He also joined the closely related Congress of Racial Equality. These organizations advocated for fighting against racism in a nonviolent manner, a central theme in Lawson’s history of activism. He traveled to India after his release from prison to perform missionary work. While in India, he studied Gandhi's teachings of nonviolent activism.

Upon returning to the United States, Lawson chose to continue his studies at Oberlin College, where he was introduced to Martin Luther King Jr. King urged Lawson to spread his knowledge of nonviolent activism techniques in the South. Lawson embraced this opportunity, transferring to Vanderbilt University, where he began spreading his wealth of knowledge about nonviolent activism. While at Vanderbilt, Lawson and fellow nonviolent activists were essential in the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an organization that aimed to counteract racism against African Americans in a nonviolent manner. He also became involved in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where he conducted workshops in nonviolence training.