Updated: Jan 5, 2020
November 15, 2018
by Deryl Davis
Photo Courtesy of Kelley Settles, Photographer
In the course of his life as an activist, the Rev. James Lawson has endured racial epithets, accusations of anarchy, threats of physical violence, expulsion from a leading university, overnight lock-ups and months in prison.
Now, the government which often opposed Lawson’s work for civil and human rights in decades past is poised to award him one of the nation’s highest honors: The Congressional Gold Medal. The resolution, co-sponsored by a group of representatives including fellow Civil Rights icon John Lewis, was introduced in the House of Representatives Wednesday, Nov. 14.
For the 90-year-old Lawson, a United Methodist minister whom Lewis has called “the architect of the Civil Rights movement,” the recognition is “humbling,” but also an affirmation that his work for nonviolent social change has not been in vain. “It makes me aware that what I was given in my call by God, even before I knew what it was, has borne some good fruit,” Lawson reflects. “But the work of translating the Gospel in terms of nonviolence is not over. I still have a calling for that work, and I still have a responsibility to God to do it.”
Lawson’s illustrious career as a fighter for freedom and justice in the name of the Gospel stretches back nearly seven decades. As a college student in Ohio in the late 1940s, he joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the nation’s oldest peace organization, and the allied Congress of Racial Equality, where he first encountered Mohandas Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence.
After reading Gandhi’s autobiography in 1947, Lawson says he declared himself “a practitioner of nonviolence and a follower of Jesus.”
He credits his mother and his early experiences in the Methodist church with laying the foundation for a lifetime’s commitment to nonviolence. “My mother preached and taught God’s love, and said that fighting, the use of anger, even among children, was unacceptable,” Lawson recalls.
Photo Courtesy of Church & Society