Civil Rights Leader James Lawson Jr Dies Aged 95

( – The “Big Six” is a term used by historians to describe the leaders of six prominent civil rights groups who were instrumental in organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom during the height of the American civil rights movement. They included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young, Roy Wilkins, Asa Philip Randolph, James Farmer Jr., and John Lewis — who later served as a US representative for Georgia from 2003 until his death in July 2020.

A seventh man stood at the intersection of those influential civil rights leaders: Reverand James Lawson Jr, who many consider one of the architects of the nonviolent civil rights movement.

Lawson worked particularly closely with King, Farmer, and Lewis. King headed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Farmer led the Congress of Racial Equality, and Lewis spearheaded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and served as a US representative for Georgia from 2003 until his death in July 2020.

Likewise, Young led the National Urban League, Wilkins served as the executive director for the NAACP, and Randolph organized and led the first African-American labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

All six men died years ago: King in 1968, Young in 1971, Randolph in 1979, Wilkins in 1981, Farmer in 1999, and Lewis in 2020. Sadly, Rev. Lawson recently joined his esteemed comrades in the afterlife.

Former Civil Rights Activist James Morris Lawson Jr. Dies

On Monday, June 7, The Associated Press reported that Lawson died the previous day in a Los Angeles hospital at the age of 95. His family later confirmed his death, noting that it occurred following a short illness. They didn’t provide any additional details on his passing.

Lawson was an apostle of nonviolent resistance. He studied the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of postcolonial India, during a three-year stint there as a missionary from 1953 to 1956. Upon his return to the US, he continued his theological studies in Ohio and met King, then a rising leader in the American Civil Rights Movement.

King encouraged Lawson to move South and teach the principles of nonviolent protest to help them endure strong pushback from white authorities. Lawson took him up on the offer and moved to Nashville, where he conducted workshops that became instrumental during sit-ins, which successfully desegregated lunch counters in Nashville. His teachings had a lasting impact on Lewis and other civil rights leaders.

MLK spoke fondly, almost reverentially, about Lawson during his famous 1968 “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. King called him one of the select few “noble men” who influenced and led the civil rights movement.

Lawson moved to Los Angeles in 1974 and served as the pastor of a local Methodist church until his retirement in 1999. His dedication to nonviolence followed him for the rest of his life. He continued teaching and mentoring young activists by holding workshops and teaching at prestigious higher education institutions like UCLA, where he helped establish the university’s James M. Lawson Jr. Labor Center.

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