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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James Lawson, October 24, 1983. Interview F-0029. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Origins of and training for the Nashville sit-ins

Though the Greensboro sit-ins predated the Nashville campaign, Lawson insists that plans for the Nashville sit-ins occurred well before any of the actions happened. He describes the workshops the students did to learn about non-violence and the ways they tested various options before launching their protests.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James Lawson, October 24, 1983. Interview F-0029. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

How did you get connected with the sit-ins in Nashville?
JAMES A. LAWSON:
OK. Well, in '57 I became the Southern Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
OK.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
It's in that relationship that I met Will and of course many others ... amm, and in going to, ahh, deciding to live in Nashville rather than in, ah, Atlanta I had my choice as to where I could open, ah, could open the office and all -- I chose Nashville because a variety of people were saying, you know, Vanderbilt University would be a good spot to be around, so and the net result was, that's where I settled, ah, and in the process of my first immediate task, was, ah, doing workshops on non-violence all around the South in the movement. As a consequence of that, I determined that I should try to develop a model for the movement to look at in which I would put into operation, ah, kind of a full display of non-violent philosophy in action, amm, and that should be done in Nashville. So we had already geared some workshops in Nashville in 19 ... the spring of, whatever, the spring of '58, and then the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference determined that ought to be a project for the downtown area. So in the Fall of 1959 we started a series of workshops with student and community people with an aim toward developing a leadership in the downtown area specifically centered. We did testing, developing our targets and all the rest of it. So that's how I got involved in the sit-ins.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
OK.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
So in February ... We did testing in November, then workshops, followups ... Then we were stopped by exams and whatnot. In any case, when February first came around, we were ready and we moved immediately.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Right, the Greensboro sit-in did precede what you did ...
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Did precede that public phase.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Yes.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
But we had, we had already done not only preparation, but exploratory work on targets, practicing sending groups out to practice non-violence--not sitting continuously, but when they were trying instead to confront waiters and waitresses and if possible the managers and then leaving before arrest.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Oh, I see.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
But that was all for the purpose of their training and discovering what was going on.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
This testing phase started in the Fall then?
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Yeah. This started in November; it's November I'm pretty sure when we started the weekly forages of experimentation into a variety of lunch counters and restaurants.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
OK.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Downtown Nashville.