Reverend James Lawson Jr. ¡Presente!
Rev. James Lawson in Memphis after the assassination of MLK, 1968. | Photo via AP

Reverend James Lawson, Jr., described by Martin Luther King, Jr. as “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world,” died in Los Angeles on June 9 at the age 95.

There will be many obituaries describing Rev. Lawson’s life of activism. Here we share some of his words about what nonviolence is and why it is a critical part of any movement dedicated to expanding rights and bringing peace to our nation and our world:

Lawson with Rev. King.

“I urge you to be a human being who is a citizen of the human race. Learn the power of life, the power of love, the power of what I call soul force. What Gandhi back in around 1906 called nonviolence. It is the effort to see the energy of the universe applied in daily living…. And nonviolence is power.”

In 2020, Reverend Lawson eulogized the late Congressman John Lewis:

“We will not be quiet as long as our nation continues to be the most violent culture in the history of humankind. We will not be quiet as long as our economy is shaped not by freedom but by plantation capitalism that continues to cause domination and control rather than access and liberty and equality for all.” A video of the eulogy can be viewed here.

‘Celebrating Rev. James Lawson Jr.’s Legacy of Nonviolence & Activism’ by Robert Lebsack, UCLA Labor Center, offset, 2018, Los Angeles, Calif., CSPG #53680. L to R: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Lawson, Jr., Maria Elena Durazo, Dolores Huerta

In 2011, the Center for the Study of Political Graphics honored Reverend James Lawson Jr. and Dorothy Wood Lawson with the Culture of Liberation Award for his partnership and leadership in the nonviolent movement for social justice which continues to inspire communities fighting for today. Watch the Art of Resistance (Part 1), a conversation between Reverend Lawson and Angela Davis, moderated by Erin Aubry Kaplan, from its 2011 Annual Celebration, recorded by the Activist Video Archive. Part 2 can be viewed here.

In 2021, Vanderbilt University launched the James Lawson Institute for the Research and Student of Nonviolent Movements. Vanderbilt expelled him from the Divinity School in 1960 for his leadership in the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins. The university apologized for the expulsion in 2006. In 2022, UCLA renamed its downtown headquarters UCLA James Lawson Jr. Worker Justice Center.

Reverend Lawson had lived in L.A. since 1974, serving as a pastor at Holman United Methodist Church until his retirement in 1999. He continued to teach nonviolence, including monthly Soulforce Nonviolence Workshops at Holman United Methodist Church, until his passing.

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Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.