REV. JAMES M. LAWSON, JR.: A friend and guiding light to those who loved equality, justice, and peace. PHOTO COURTESY OF GLOBE NEWSWIRE

Memphis, TN (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The National Civil Rights Museum is deeply saddened by the passing of civil rights philosopher and strategist, Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr.

Participating in several museum events and programs, Rev. Lawson has been a lifelong mentor of the movement and among a panel of respected scholars for the National Civil Rights Museum. He is one of the Museum’s 2011 Freedom Award Icon of the Civil Rights Movement honorees.

In recent years, Rev. Lawson would join the National Civil Rights Museum in illuminating the legacy of Dr. King during April 4 commemoration.

He paired with civil rights activist John Lewis in the milestone MLK50 Evening of Storytelling Symposium in 2018.

A supporter of the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolent protest, Rev. Lawson was one of the Civil Rights Movement’s leading theoreticians and tacticians in the African American struggle for freedom and equality in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1957, one of Lawson’s professors introduced him to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who urged him to move south and aid in the Civil Rights Movement.

Heeding King’s advice, Lawson moved to Nashville, Tennessee and enrolled at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University, where he served as the southern director for Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and began hosting nonviolence training workshops for sit-ins with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Influential in the formation of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lawson trained many of the future leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, including James Bevel, Diane Nash, John Lewis, Bernard Lafayette, and Marion Barry who participated in nonviolent sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and voting rights campaigns.

He was expelled from Vanderbilt after being arrested for nonviolent demonstrations. In 2021, the college would name part of its divinity school the James Lawson Institute for the Research and Study of Nonviolent Movements at Vanderbilt University.

As pastor of Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis, Lawson invited Dr. King to Memphis to garner support for the 1968 Sanitation Workers Strike.

It was solely his invitation that detoured SCLC to Memphis ahead of the Poor Peoples Campaign.

Days after King’s assassination, with King’s widow Coretta Scott King, Lawson would help to organize the Silent March through downtown Memphis in honor of Dr. King.

Lawson was pastor of Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles and continued his social activism on Palestinian and immigrant rights, gay and lesbian issues, the Iraq wars, and poverty.

Rev. Lawson was a friend and guiding light to those who loved equality, justice, and peace. He leaves a long legacy of love and quieted strength in the name of human rights. He will be sorely missed throughout the world.