TACOMA, Wash. — The Rev. James Lawson, a colleague of Martin Luther King, Jr., a key leader in the civil rights movement, and advocate of non-violent education, will speak at the University of Puget Sound this month. Lawson’s address, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26, in Kilworth Chapel on the Puget Sound campus.
The lecture is part of the series of Swope Lectures on Ethics, Religion, Faith, and Values. It is free and open to the public.
Lawson was a student at the Graduate School of Theology at Oberlin College when he met Dr. King after he gave a speech there in 1957. Lawson was already an advocate of non-violence—he was imprisoned for not cooperating with the draft in 1949 and studied the teachings and methods of Gandhi during a missionary stint in India in the early ’50s. He and King realized their common passions and became teammates in the effort to translate Gandhian principles to the civil rights movement.
While in Nashville, Lawson was the teacher and organizer of students who participated in the lunch counter sit-ins in 1960. He helped prepare Freedom Riders for marches and sit-ins across the South. While a pastor in Memphis he played a major role in the sanitation workers’ strike in 1968, and on the eve of his assassination Dr. King called Lawson “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.”
Lawson was a central figure in the Fellowship of Reconciliation and for 14 years served as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization founded by Dr. King to end racial segregation by nonviolent protest. He is the retired pastor of Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, where he served for 25 years. In recent years has continued his advocacy of non-violence, peace, and social and economic justice.
The Swope Endowed Lectureship was established at Puget Sound through a gift from Major Ianthe Swope in honor of her mother, Jane Hammer Swope. The lectureship is intended to promote broad discussions, critical thinking, and ethical inquiry about matters of religion, such as its role in public life, issues in contemporary spirituality, ethics, and world religions. Past speakers in the series have included religious historian Karen Armstrong, author and professor Michael Barnett, Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Oscar Arias, author James Carroll, Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, and Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center.