Rev. James Lawson, United Methodist Minister and Civil Rights Advocate, Recommended for Congressional Gold Medal

James Lawson
(Vanderbilt Photo / Daniel Dubois)

The Rev. James Lawson, a United Methodist minister known for his advocacy of nonviolence in the civil rights era and beyond, has been recommended for a Congressional Gold Medal.

“It is, I think, time for us as a nation to really recognize all that he has done for people in this country and for people in the world,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., at a reception on Wednesday (Nov. 14) where he announced legislation to honor the 90-year-old Lawson.

“He’s a shining light at a time where so many of these values are being called into question,” said Khanna.

More than a half dozen members of Congress, including civil rights veteran John Lewis and California Reps. Karen Bass and Barbara Lee, joined Khanna and Lawson at the Cannon House Office Building to support Khanna’s proposal and to praise Lawson for his decades of work. The medal is the highest civilian award given by Congress.

Lawson is renowned for training college students in Nashville, Tenn., in nonviolent protest so they could withstand harsh mistreatment as they defied Jim Crow laws by occupying segregated lunch counters.

Lewis, now a congressman from Georgia, recalled Lawson’s instructions before Lewis had to endure being spat upon and having lit cigarettes put in his hair and down his back.

“Every Tuesday night, this man taught us about the teaching of Gandhi. He inspired us and many of us grew to accept the way of peace, the way of love, to accept the philosophy and the discipline for nonviolence as a way of life,” Lewis said.

“If it hadn’t been for Jim Lawson, I don’t know what would have happened to our country; I don’t know what would have happened to me,” he added.

Decades later, Lawson, who lives in Los Angeles, still teaches students about civil rights.

Calling Lawson “one of the most consequential members of the civil rights movement,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., credited him with introducing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to “the whole concept of nonviolence.”

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SOURCE: Urban Faith; Religion News Service, Adelle M. Banks