Monday, February 1, 2010

Civil rights pioneer speaks in Dallas

Civil rights pioneer Rev. James Lawson, who trained the original Freedom Riders, spoke in Dallas over the weekend, according to an article in the Dallas Morning News:

By WENDY HUNDLEY / The Dallas Morning News

One of the key architects of the nonviolent civil rights struggle is bringing his message of faith and peace to North Texas.

Violence "is the No. 1 enemy of the human race," the Rev. James Lawson told the congregation at St. Luke Community United Methodist Church on Sunday after he was introduced as a "living legend."

Lawson, 81, who is pastor emeritus at Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, is in Dallas to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro, N.C., lunch counter sit-ins that helped spark the student movement to end segregation and racism.

Lawson, who will give the keynote address at 7 p.m. today at the Black Academy of Arts & Letters, began studying Gandhi's principles of nonviolent resistance in the 1950s in India.

He brought those teachings to the civil rights movement when he was asked by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. – who shared his philosophy of passive resistance – to join the struggle in the South.

Activists trained by Lawson launched a series of sit-ins to challenge segregation in Nashville, Tenn., restaurants and cafes. These young civil rights workers went on to organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which played a key role in the Freedom Rides, the 1963 March on Washington and other key events.

Lawson has paid a price for his beliefs.

He served 13 months in prison because he refused to report for the draft during the Korean War.

In 1960, he was expelled from Vanderbilt University in Nashville because of his work with the civil rights movement. Lawson now serves as a Distinguished University Professor at Vanderbilt.

Although Lawson has come under fire for critical remarks he has made about Christianity and the U.S., he steered away from current politics Sunday, only questioning U.S. resources devoted to the military.

"Why do we need 800 military bases in 300 countries?" said Lawson, who has opposed the war in Iraq.

The civil rights pioneer continues to train the next generation of nonviolent activists, but he looks back on the success of the civil rights struggle with pride.

"Dallas had 'White' and 'Colored' signs all over the county," he told St. Luke parishioners. "Those signs are gone," Lawson said. "They came down because some people determined it was shameful to have them."

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