In Memoriam: James Morris Lawson Jr., 1928-2024

James Morris Lawson Jr., a pivotal figure in the history of the civil rights movement and nonviolence education, passed away on June 9. He was 95 years old.

Lawson enrolled at the Vanderbilt Divinity School in 1958. While he was a student, he helped organize sit-ins at lunch counters 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. He also taught labor studies courses on nonviolence at the University of California, Los Angeles for two decades.

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. In 2013, Lawson donated a collection of his papers to the Vanderbilt University Libraries, followed by another donation of his photographic collection in 2018. Over the past decade, Vanderbilt University has established two scholarships in his honor; one for undergraduate students and another for Divinity School students.

In 2021, Vanderbilt University established the James Lawson Institute for the Research and Study of Nonviolent Movements. Around the same time, UCLA renamed its Labor Center in his honor.

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