Skip to content

Rest in Power, Rev. James Lawson, architect of Civil Rights Movement


Catalyst California today mourns the passing of the Rev. James Lawson, an architect of the Civil Rights movement and a master tactician of non-violent resistance. He was 95. Beginning in the 1960s and throughout his life, Lawson, a Methodist minister, led lunch counter sit-ins and organized Freedom Rides that were key moments in the movement that sought to lift Black people into de facto full citizenship in this country. 

“Today, we lost a foundational leader for the racial justice movement,” said John Kim, president and CEO of Catalyst California. “Rev. Lawson was there at the beginning, the maturation and the continuation of the Civil Rights movement into a new century. Late into his years he continued to strategize the renewal of the movement and embody the principles of non-violent resistance in the service of equity in this country.” 

The Rev. Martin Luther King recruited Rev. Lawson early into his Southern Christian Leadership Conference and, with him, endured the brutality that often followed the organization’s quest for civil rights, including beatings and threats on his life. His commitment to non-violence led him to refuse to register for the draft during the Korean War, earning him 13 months in prison. 

“Rev. Lawson was a force of nature, an ever-creative mind dedicated to affirming and defending the basic humanity and immeasurable value of Black lives,” said Dr. John Dobard, Vice President of Policy and Programs at Catalyst California. “He never wavered in his commitment to planting social justice on our soil, especially for those whom this country tried to dispossess of their basic rights. We were privileged to have him close to us, for so very long, in Los Angeles. We will miss his voice, but his words and teachings will remain.”