Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr. is a minister, teacher, and advocate for justice, widely influential in the Civil Rights Movement and global human rights campaigns. Born in 1928, he embraced nonviolence and social responsibility from his upbringing in a family of Methodist ministers. After his imprisonment as a conscientious objector, he studied nonviolent resistance in India and joined forces with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They collaborated for a decade, combatting racism. Rev. Lawson trained students in nonviolent resistance at Vanderbilt University, resulting in the successful Nashville Student Movement campaign to integrate lunch counters. His students went on to lead SNCC and key Civil Rights struggles. Rev. Lawson continued his advocacy in Memphis, where he became pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church and chaired the strike committee during the sanitation workers' strike. He later served as a pastor in Los Angeles and continued training activists in nonviolent resistance.
In 2006, Rev. Lawson returned to Nashville to receive Vanderbilt’s apology and the degree he had been denied when he was expelled many years before. He taught at Vanderbilt for three years as a distinguished professor. In 2022, Vanderbilt established the James Lawson Institute to nurture evidence-based research and education rooted in nonviolent strategies. In 2023, Metro Nashville Schools renamed Hillwood High School for Rev. Lawson.
Tennessee Historical Society
Civil Rights Digital Library