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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 the classic phase of the civil rights movement

Lawson describes how the sit-ins and other actions used during the classic phase of the civil rights movement emerged out of the 1930s and 1940s.

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 ever run into a Charles McCoy?
JAMES A. LAWSON:
I'm not sure.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
He's at Pacific School of Religion now. Teaches ethics there.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Uh ha.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
But he was a student at Duke in the '40's ...
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Yeah.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
And got related to Nell, was a secretary of the Southern Churchmen, ... Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, then ...
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Right.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
In Chapel Hill and they were integrating churches and the universities around Chapel Hill ...
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Uh ha.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Back around '46, '47, and I'm trying to see if there was a connection at all between what they were doing then and the Civil Rights Movement in the '50's and '60's. Some of them maintain they worked out the tactics of the later Civil Rights Movement. Like they would send a pair, male and female, white and black, four people to the various churches.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
To what?
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
They would go to various churches and just walk in and sit down.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Uh ha.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
And do their integration in that pattern in the '40's, and I was just astounded that they did it and got away with it.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Well, of course, though that two-by-two tactic is a fairly old thing, though, because, you see, the actual, the first sit-in technique was really developed in places like Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Cleveland, Washington, D. C., in the early '40's.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
It was written about, it was written up in a whole variety of national publications at the time.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
That's where the Congress of Racial Equality began.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Yeah.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
They grew out of the early sit-ins that were in the North ...
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Of restaurants and skating rinks. By the time I came along, the Congress of Racial Equality was doing summer workcamps, summer workshops for students who were interested in developing non-violent understandings.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
This was by 1946, 47.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
They were doing that.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
All right. They also participated with the Fellowship of Reconciliation in the 1947 test of the Interstate Commerce Commission Ruling ...
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Right. Yes. Right.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Nell Morton and that group.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Yes, that's right. Those were the contacts all across that area.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha. Do you think groups of people like this, Nell and all those folks, helped to form, at all in any way, a network of people who later were involved in the Regional Civil Rights Movement of the South?
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Oh, yes. I think that's true. I think that's clear. That there was a network in the '40's of people who were experimenting with the whole variety of multi-racial contact and efforts.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
I was beholden to it, too, because in, by the time '57 rolled around, frequently my host in places like Monroeville, Virginia, Little Rock, Crossville, and a lot of these places would be a white family ...
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
That was a product either of the FOR Network or that old Fellowship of Southern Churchmen.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
They would be the people who would house me and all the rest of it so there was a significant Network that they were a part of.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Glad to know that.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
It is an important Network.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Yeah.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Yeah.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Of course.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
In the, well, I shouldn't just say that because in the early, in the late '40's also I was a recipient of it because of, in Methodist meetings that I had to attend as a National Youth Officer in places like Kentucky, and Tennessee also a number of them were my hosts.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Uh ha. So you kind of got into the Network early on.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
That's right. I almost forgot the fact that I got into the Network in the late '40's.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
OK.
JAMES A. LAWSON:
Early '50's.