James Lawson: Leading Architect and Educator of Nonviolence and Nonviolent Direct Action Protest Strategies During the Student Sit-in Movement of 1960.

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James Morris Lawson, Jr. grew up in Massillion, Ohio, in a loving Christian home. He became a pacifist at an early age after a memorable encounter with racism. As he matured, he studied nonviolence from the perspectives of Jesus Christ and the great Indian revolutionary, Mohandas Gandhi. After meeting the famous Christian pacifist, A. J. Muste, Lawson became a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and a conscientious objector to war. He spent fourteen months in a federal prison after refusing to be drafted into the U.S. military. After prison, Lawson worked in India as a missionary and learned nonviolent direct action strategies from Gandhi's followers.Inspired by the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Lawson left India and returned to America in 1956 to join the struggle to end racial segregation in America. That same year, Lawson met Martin Luther King, Jr. and upon King's request, moved to the South to teach nonviolence. Lawson eventually settled in Nashville, Tennessee, to teach nonviolence to a group of young men and women who would become some of the most important "leaders" in the American Civil Rights Movement. James Lawson made a significant contribution to the student sit-in movement of 1960 by teaching a new idea—nonviolent direct action—to an elite group of student activists. However, his influence has been ignored by most histories of the movement. The following essay brings this elusive figure to the forefront and highlights his impact on the first wave of student activists who spearheaded the nonviolent campaign to overturn segregation.



satyagraha, nonviolence, James Lawson, sit-it