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James M. Lawson, Jr.



James M. Lawson, Jr. (born 1928) is a minister and civil rights activist. As a college student, he joined the Fellowship for Reconciliation and the Congress of Racial Equality. He declared himself a conscientious objector and refused to report for the draft in 1951, serving fourteen months in prison as a result. As a Methodist missionary to India he studied Gandhi's principles of nonviolence. Enrolling in the Vanderbilt University Divinity School, he began nonviolence training workshops for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. These led to the sit-ins in downtown Nashville in 1960. He played a role in efforts such as the Freedom Rides and the Mississippi Freedom Project (Freedom Summer). He was expelled from Vanderbilt because of his civil rights activities. He became pastor of Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis, and in 1968 was chair of the strategy committee for a strike by African American sanitation workers. He invited Martin Luther King, Jr., to come to Memphis to support the strike. King delivered his famous "Mountaintop" speech there the day before he was assassinated. Lawson continued his ministry, leading Holman Methodist Church in Los Angeles from 1974 to 1999, as well as his social activism and nonviolence training. Vanderbilt apologized to Lawson for expelling him, and he later served as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the school. 

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