Skip to Content

Civil rights icon Rev. James Lawson Jr., who trained activists in nonviolent protest, has died at age 95, pastor says

Alyssa Pointer/Pool/Getty Images via CNN Newsource

Originally Published: 10 JUN 24 18:33 ET

By Cindy Von Quednow, CNN

(CNN) — The Rev. James Lawson Jr., a civil rights icon who trained activists in nonviolent protest, died Sunday, according to the pastor at Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, where Lawson was reverend emeritus.

Lawson died in Los Angeles, Rev. Christian Washington told CNN Monday. He was 95.

Lawson was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1928, according to his biography by The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.

In 1951, he was imprisoned for refusing to register with the armed forces. After his parole the following year, he traveled to India for missionary work with the Methodist Church, the biography states. There, he studied Mahatma Gandhi’s use of nonviolence.

He returned to the United States in 1956 and studied at Oberlin College School of Theology and Vanderbilt University, according to the biography.

Lawson met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. the following year.

The civil rights leader urged Lawson to move to the South to teach nonviolence to others, his biography states, and that same year, Lawson would organize workshops on nonviolence for residents of Nashville and students at Vanderbilt and elsewhere.

Following the lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, Lawson and other activists held nonviolent protests in Nashville’s downtown stores, according to the biography. He was expelled from Vanderbilt in 1960 due to his involvement in the city’s desegregation movement.

King went on to praise Lawson and other preachers for “fighting for the rights of his people” in his April 3, 1968, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech – his last.

“And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he’s been to jail for struggling; but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Rev. Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit,” King said.

“But I want to thank them all. And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.”

After King’s assassination, Lawson continued working with civil rights groups, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Lawson was the pastor of Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles from 1974 to 1999, according to the church. He held workshops on nonviolence well into his 90s, Washington said.

Lawson also taught at the University of California Los Angeles’ college of social sciences, and university officials there called him “one of the most impactful social justice leaders of the twentieth-century.”

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: News
civil rights
james lawson jr

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KION 46 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content