“Champions” features current and historic figures who can inspire the struggle for a worker- and climate- safe world.

Photo credit Joon Powell. Cropping and color adjustment by Ryan Kaldari.

Rev. James Lawson died June 10 at 95. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called Lawson “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.”

The son and grandson of ministers, Lawson was ordained as a high school senior. He was drafted for the Korean War but refused to serve and spent a year in prison as a conscientious objector. Lawson spent three years in India studying the campaigns and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. He concluded from his study of Gandhi that the Christian concept of turning the other cheek could be applied in collective actions to challenge morally indefensible laws.

After returning to the US, Lawson began organizing workshops in church basements in Nashville, Tennessee that prepared young civil rights activists, including John Lewis, Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, Marion Barry, the Freedom Riders and many others, in nonviolent strategies to challenge racist laws and policies. The strategies quickly proved their power. After hundreds of well-organized students staged lunch-counter sit-ins and boycotts of discriminatory businesses, on May 10, 1960, businesses agreed to take down the “No Colored” signs that enforced white supremacy – the first major city in the South to do so. Lawson then helped organize what became the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which organized the spontaneous efforts of tens of thousands of students who began challenging Jim Crow into a powerful force for transforming the South.

Rev. Lawson played a significant role in many of the key campaigns of the civil rights movement. In 1968 he chairman of the strike committee for the Memphis sanitation workers strike, one of the crucial struggles for the rights of Black workers.

Rev. Lawson moved to Los Angeles in 1974, where he was pastor of Holman United Methodist Church. While in Los Angeles, he was active in the labor movement, the American Civil Liberties Union, and movements for reproductive choice and gay rights. He continued to train activists in nonviolence and supported immigrants’ rights in the United States, the rights of Palestinians, and workers’ rights to a living wage.

https://apnews.com/article/james-lawson-civil-rights-leader-d0abdb6dda2a4d0597e47fea48f161a0 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lawson_(activist)