· Society of John Wesley

James Lawson inducted into Society of John Wesley


LOS ANGELES, Calif.––The Rev. James Lawson, 92, one of the pillars of the civil rights movement, was inducted as a fellow in the Society of John Wesley during a February 6 celebration.

The UM Men of California-Pacific Annual Conference, UM Men of Holman UMC, and UM Men of the Western Jurisdiction presented the award.

“We so often honor our heroes after death; here we were able to share the moment with the living legend,” said Reggie Grant, a member of the General Commission on UM Men and sponsor of the event. “Jim Lawson is still a powerhouse of insight, knowledge and so inspiring. I am honored to have been a part of the celebration.

Lawson is a leading theoretician and tactician of nonviolence. Recruited by Martin Luther King, he trained many activists in nonviolent resistance including Diane Nash; Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry; U.S. Congressional Representative John Lewis; Bernard Lafayette; and James Bevel.

Early life

Lawson was born on September 22, 1928, in Uniontown, Pa. He grew up in Massillon, Ohio. Both Lawson's father and grandfather were Methodist ministers.

After graduating from Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. he went to Nagpur, India, where he studied nonviolence resistance.

He returned to the United States in 1956 and entered the Graduate School of Theology at Oberlin College in Ohio where he married Dorothy Wood and the couple had three sons, John, Morris and Seth.

Enrolls in Vanderbilt

Lawson enrolled at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University in 1958, where he served as the southern director for Congress on Racial Equality and began conducting nonviolence training workshops in his church basement.

In 1959 and 1960 he launched sit-ins at Nashville lunch counters to challenge segregation laws. In 1960, he was expelled from Vanderbilt for these activities, a move that captured national attention and caused several faculty members to resign.

He later graduated from Boston University School of Theology.

Pastor in Memphis

In 1962, he was appointed pastor of Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis, Tenn. In 1968, black sanitation workers began a strike and Lawson chaired their strike committee. Six years later he extended an invitation to Dr. King to speak in Memphis. It was in that city, King delivered his "Mountaintop" speech, and was killed in April 1968.

Move to Los Angeles

In 1974, he was appointed senior pastor of Holman UMC, a post he held for 25 years. He retired in 1999, but he remains active with preaching and teaching engagements throughout the country along with conducting nonviolence workshops locally and overseas.  He leads his nonviolence workshop every fourth Saturday at Holman. He also serves as adjunct professor at California State University.

The Society of John Wesley

Established in 1982 by the directors of the UM Men Foundation, the Society of John Wesley is a means to recognize those who exemplify the characteristics of John Wesley. These characteristics are best seen through service to others and a commitment to the teachings of the Christian faith. Fellows in the society include two former U.S. presidents, several bishops, pastors and outstanding laymen and laywomen. A gift of $1,000 to the UMM Foundation enables one to become a fellow in the society.

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