Civil Rights icon James Lawson, Champion of Non-violent protest, dies at 95

James Lawson, a pivotal figure in the American civil rights movement and a proponent of non-violent protest, passed away at 95 in Los Angeles, his family announced on Monday.

A Methodist minister, Lawson studied Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of civil disobedience in India and taught these methods to activists fighting racial segregation in the United States.

Born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1928, Lawson was inspired to embrace non-violence at the age of eight after an incident involving a racial slur.

 His dedication to peaceful resistance was further tested when he refused to be drafted for the Korean War, resulting in a 13-month prison sentence.

Lawson’s journey took him to Nagpur, India, where he studied Gandhi’s resistance tactics.

Upon returning to the US, he met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Oberlin College in Ohio.

 King, recognizing Lawson’s expertise, encouraged him to move to Nashville to teach non-violent protest techniques at Vanderbilt University.

Lawson’s influence extended to many civil rights leaders, including John Lewis and Marion Barry.

His workshops equipped activists to endure violence and intimidation without retaliation, aiming to expose the immorality of racism.

 King’s assassination in 1968 deeply affected Lawson, who later officiated the prison marriage of James Earl Ray, King’s convicted assassin, believing Ray was not solely responsible for King’s death.

Lawson also co-founded the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which played a significant role in the 1960s civil rights protests.

In a 2020 speech at John Lewis’s funeral, Lawson reiterated his lifelong commitment to justice, stating, “Black lives matter.”

Lawson’s legacy as a strategist and teacher of non-violence remains a cornerstone of the civil rights movement, celebrated for his unwavering dedication to peaceful resistance and social justice.

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