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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 >>

White involvement in the Nashville sit-in

Though whites—particularly students and faculty from Vanderbilt—participated in the sit-ins as observers, Lawson explains that he did not let them join in too visibly because their presence would have increased the violence by decentering focus from the downtown business to Vanderbilt.

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

DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
You had some whites involved in that as well as blacks, right?
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Now let me think about this. In the Fall I am not positive, OK?
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
I cannot be positive about that in the Fall. I'm trying to remember if some of the exchange students at Fisk were involved and I'm also trying to remember if, if at that time, amm, I know we took visitors sometimes in some of that, cause we had a couple of church people from Africa touring and they went with a couple of our groups.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
And I can't recall if ... I cannot recall if we had any whites considerably in that Fall.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
OK.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Paula Prod and a couple of exchange students did, were acting in the sit-in campaign in February but I can't remember if they were in the workshops in the Fall or not.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
OK. What was the role of Will Campbell in the sit-ins?
JAMES A. LAWSON:
OK. Will organized what we called our observer groups.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Stayed in the downtown area when we were there keepin' a running record of everything they saw.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
And Will quite specifically organized that and then also, of course, beyond that, was involved with the Human Relations Conference with other folk interpreting what we were doing.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
OK. What was Everett Tilson's role?
JAMES A. LAWSON:
This I do not remember for full. In early '60, but I would assume that he might've been one of those observers. I have to tell you I sort of did deliberately. In fact some of the folk at Vanderbilt sort of did not like my decision but I sort of deliberately did not include them in certain public phases for strategic reasons, namely that their presence would often further inflame things and make Vanderbilt more the target than our business downtown the target.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
So I quite deliberately low-keyed exposing Vanderbilt's students and people in at least the initial days of it, and then, also, the initially, the larger number of blacks, I mean the larger number of whites we used as witnesses and observers rather than as people sitting-in directly.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Right.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
We used them in these other roles, and that again was a deliberate decision.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
For the purpose of court cases and the rest.