The Rev. James M. Lawson Jr., a leading figure in the civil rights movement and an associate of Martin Luther King Jr., has donated a significant portion of his papers to the special collections division of the Vanderbilt University Libraries. Connie Vinita Dowell, dean of libraries at Vanderbilt, stated, “This important collection reflects his contributions to the civil rights movement and his distinguished career as a prominent minister and teacher. The entirety of this collection will allow scholars to complete the portrait of his remarkable legacy.”
Lawson, enrolled at the Vanderbilt Divinity School in 1958. While a student he helped organize sit-ins at lunchcounters in downtown Nashville. In 1960, he was expelled from the university for his participation in civil rights protests.
Lawson completed his divinity studies at Boston University and then served as director of nonviolent education for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From 1974 to 1999, Rev. Lawson was the pastor of the Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles.
Lawson returned to Vanderbilt as a distinguished visiting professor from 2006 to 2009. An endowed chair at the Divinity School was named in his honor in 2007.
“The Reverend James Lawson has been an inspiration to generations of divinity students, faculty and alumni for putting the faith we study and share into action with imagination and integrity,” said James Hudnut-Beumler, dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School and the Anne Potter Wilson Distinguished Professor of American Religious History. “His commitment to nonviolent social change and to the gospel ministry were not two different commitments, but a unified discipleship lived out in Nashville, Memphis and Los Angeles. It is wonderful that we will have his papers here close by to teach us that lesson again, just as he taught our students each time he served as a distinguished visiting professor.”