Architect of Non-Violence: What Rev. James Lawson has to say on today’s Black Lives Matter movement

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Rev. James Lawson and his friend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. bonded over the use of non-violence as a way to bring about change.

The recent deaths of black men and women at the hands of police officers and others stirred emotions and ignited protests for a change. These protests are built on the backs of those demonstrations from the civil rights movement.

Stephanie Scurlock met one-on-one with the man known as the architect of the non-violent protest in this country to get his take on what he’s seeing today.

“I started working with Dr. King in January of 1958, and was with him in the Memphis campaign which he participated in, and was with him three or four, six hours of the day of his assassination, April the 4th, 1968,” Lawson said.

Lawson strategized and trained young protesters for peaceful demonstrations like the sit-ins at Nashville lunch counters — demonstrations that led to desegregating downtowns throughout America.  

“In those workshops, I tried to cover many of the subject matters of nonviolence and the tactics of nonviolence, and I also tried to help people prepare themselves to face name-calling, cursing, and actual violence,” he said.

Lawson, now 91, pastored churches in Nashville and Memphis before heading to Los Angeles, where he lives now watching these new demonstrations unfold.  

Related: Protesters gather in downtown Memphis to demonstrate for George Floyd

“I recognize that in the United States, there is perhaps the largest or second-largest campaign of nonviolence the nation has ever had, and I recognize that it’s calling for many different issues that need to be corrected, yet that have never been corrected in the United States,” he said.

“Now, the issue of the excessive use of violence on innocent people who are then injured or gassed or shot and killed by police, it’s now time for the USA people to say we have to have a different form of policing.”

Lawson believes the violence that sometimes breaks out doesn’t reflect on the work of the Black Lives Matter movement, but stems from the core of this country’s founding.

“The United States of America has the most violent culture in human history. We have had in our land, 400 years of violence,” he said. “They represent USA culture. They do not represent Black Lives Matter network. … They represent the violence that comes out of the woodwork of America.”

He believes the demonstrations are necessary to bring about change that he says we’re already starting to see as cities across the country began to change unjust laws and policies.

“What you see happening could be the most important campaign since Rosa Parks, Martin King,” he said.

Rev. Lawson believes people at the local level will change this country, dismantling injustices city by city, community by community.

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