Former Civil Rights Leader Believes the Fight Against Violence Starts
January 21, 2010
By Danielle Strickler
HARRISONBURG, Va. Reverend James Lawson, a former friend of Martin
Luther King Jr., believes that even today if we are to follow and
honor King's dream, then we need to start a nonviolent movement of
change starting with ourselves.
That was the message he shared Monday evening during the Center for
Multicultural Student Services' 23rd annual MLK celebration. More
than 400 people attended "A Timeless Dream: Enduring Change and
Shaping Our Reality" in Wilson Hall.
"We cannot achieve a better community, a better James Madison
University, a better nation, by demeaning others," Lawson said.
According to Lawson, violence has increased because society has
become obsessed with the security weapons seem to provide.
Born in Pennsylvania, Lawson grew up in Ohio where he studied at the
Baldwin-Wallace College. He moved to Tennessee with the encouragement
of King and became director of Fellowship of Reconciliation, an
organization that promotes nonviolent resistance to racism. There, he
trained many of the future civil rights movement leaders such as
Marion Barry, James Bevel and John Lewis. Lawson still teaches
lectures at some universities on nonviolence and civil rights.
In 1968, when black sanitation workers went on strike for union
recognition and higher wages, Lawson served as a chairman of their
strike committee and invited King to Memphis in 1968 to help them
with their struggle.
The following day, King gave his famous "I've Been to the
Mountaintop" speech and then was shot the day after.
Lawson continues to be an active mentor in training activists in nonviolence.
Influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Lawson said citizens
must adopt the nonviolent teachings that Gandhi had practiced: The
power of life was planted in each of us at birth if we just behave in
a peaceful manner.
"I liked that he's challenging us as individuals, by looking in the
mirror, we have to change us before we can change the world,"
said Chris Womack, chair of JMU kinesiology.
The JMU Contemporary Gospel Singers also presented a play about civil
rights and the progression in the nation from Rosa Parks and the bus
boycotts to King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
"Being a part of this celebration is important to me, because
celebrating MLK's dream is something I can look back on and say 'I
did that,' " senior Britnie Green said, in reference to listening to
a former civil rights activist.
Lawson mentioned King's book, "Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or
Community?", published in 1967.
He said King believed civil rights was a national movement, whereas
each demonstration simply touched on a piece of civil rights such as
liberty, justice, equality or eliminating Jim Crow Laws.
"The problem is not with the young people today, but adults who do
not make decisions equitable," Lawson said. "Not the young who do not
A candle lighting ceremony followed the speech, with more than 75
departments and members of JMU participating in remembrance of King's
dream. While the candles were lit, the audience was asked to reflect
on how they would be a change in the world.
"He had a good message, and I'm able to reflect on what I want to do
and how I will go towards the community he was talking about," said
Chloe Paccaly, a junior international business and finance major.
Valerie Ghant, director of CMSS, closed the program with a summary of
Lawson's speech calling it "heartfelt and compelling, more than a
speech, a message."
She said that denying equality of human life is denying ourselves; we
must recognize beauty in each other and the diversity they bring to the table.
"This event was very influential and the best event I've attended at
JMU," sophomore nursing major Matt Hill said. "The message about
equality pertains to everyone and rings true to my life."
Contact Danielle Strickler at firstname.lastname@example.org