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James M. Lawson Jr., a Top Strategist for Dr. King, Is Dead at 95

U.S.James M. Lawson Jr., a Top Strategist for Dr. King, Is Dead at 95

The Rev. James M. Lawson Jr., a civil rights strategist for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who taught protesters the painful techniques of nonviolence and confronted racial injustice in America for five decades, died on Sunday en route to a hospital in Los Angeles. He was 95 and lived in Los Angeles.

The cause was cardiac arrest, his son Morris Lawson 3rd said.

Armed with Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of civil disobedience, which he studied as a missionary in India, Mr. Lawson, a Methodist minister whose great-grandfather escaped slavery, joined Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1958 as a teacher and organizer. Along with Ralph Abernathy, James L. Farmer Jr., Roy Wilkins and Bayard Rustin, he became one of the chief architects of the 1960s civil rights struggle as it spread through the South.

Dr. King called Mr. Lawson America’s leading theorist on nonviolence. But he was also a traveling troubleshooter in a land of night riders, where African Americans were beaten, shot, arrested and lynched. He led workshops on nonviolence for protesters, sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, picket lines and boycotts at stores that catered only to white customers, and Black voter-registration drives. He was dragged off to jail many times.

Through the turbulent 1960s, the strategy of nonviolence divided African Americans and their allies. Many called it a sign of weakness — futile against entrenched segregation, the brutalities of the Ku Klux Klan and the legal and psychological weapons of Jim Crow. They favored more aggressive, confrontational tactics.

But Mr. Lawson believed segregation could best be fought by shocking the nation’s conscience with passive acceptance of the fist and the nightstick.

“It is only when the hostility comes to the surface that the people see the character of our nation,” he said. “Chances are that without people being hurt, we cannot solve the problem.”


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