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Oral History Interview with James Lawson, October 24, 1983. Interview F-0029. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    James M. Lawson was a key ally to Martin Luther King Jr. and also an important theoretician and practitioner of nonviolent protest. After briefly summarizing his childhood in Pennsylvania, Lawson describes how he became involved with the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen through activist preacher Will D. Campbell. Lawson's activism began during his time in Nashville, Tennessee. He relates how the Fisk and Vanderbilt students learned nonviolent protest, and describes how he helped organize and execute the Nashville sit-ins. Lawson devotes much of the interview to discussions of his relationship with various civil rights activists, including Kelly Miller Smith, Nelle Morton, Myles Horton, James Dombrowski, and James Holloway. Though Lawson was expelled from Vanderbilt because of his involvement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and his participation in the sit-ins, he remembers that several of the faculty members offered him a great amount of personal support. He also reconciled with some of his opponents later in life. Lawson closes the interview by asserting that the actions of the 1950s and 1960s emerged from the union and labor rights movements of the 1930s and 1940s.
  • William Campbell and the Committee of Southern Churchmen
  • Origins of and training for the Nashville sit-ins
  • White involvement in the Nashville sit-in
  • Kelly Miller Smith and the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference
  • Lawson's memories of Nelle Morton
  • Lawson's relationship with white activists
  • Lawson's impressions of Will Campbell
  • The Committee of Southern Churchmen and their publication Katallgete
  • Lawson's experiences at Vanderbilt
  • Origins of the classic phase of the civil rights movement
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • Southern States--Race relations
  • Fellowship of Southern Churchmen
  • African Americans--Religion
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.