Key Civil Rights Figure Rev. James Lawson Jr. Dies, Family Says

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Fiona McLoughlin Contributor
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Rev. James Lawson Jr., a key figure in the civil rights movement, died at the age of 95, his family announced Monday.

Lawson’s family said he died Sunday in Los Angeles after suffering a short illness, according to The Associated Press (AP). Lawson had spent recent decades working in Los Angeles as a pastor, professor, and labor movement organizer, the outlet noted.

Lawson worked closely alongside Martin Luther King Jr. as an adviser, the outlet noted. King referred to Lawson as “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world,” The AP reported.

King urged Lawson to move to the South in 1957, telling him, “Come now. We don’t have anyone like you down there,” Fox11 reported. Upon moving to Nashville, Tennessee, Lawson began teaching nonviolent protest techniques, the outlet noted.

Lawson was known for leading workshops in church basements in Nashville. These workshops prepared people, including Bernard Lafayette, John Lewis, Diane Nash, Marion Barry and the Freedom Riders, to stand peacefully alongside the vicious responses that followed their challenges against racist policies and laws, The AP noted.

With the help of Lawson’s lessons, Nashville became the first major city in the South to desegregate its downtown after he led staged lunch-counter sit-ins and boycotts of businesses known for discriminatory practices, The AP noted.

He was also known for introducing Gandhian principles to show those familiar with biblical teachings how direct action can expose the fragility and immortality of racist power structures.

In 1968, Lawson led the sanitation workers strike that ultimately drew King to Memphis, Tennessee. (RELATED: Civil Rights Leader Rev. William Lawson, Who Collaborated With Martin Luther King Jr, Dies At Age 95).

“I thought I would not live beyond 40, myself,” Lawson once said, The AP noted. “The imminence of death was a part of the discipline we lived with, but no one as much as King.”

King mentioned Lawson in his final speech prior to his assassination, “He’s been going to jail for struggling; he’s been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggling; but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people,” King said, according to Fox11.