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Thu Jul 22, 2021, 07:39 AM

Vanderbilt honors civil rights icon James Lawson with new institute


"Vanderbilt Divinity School and the College of Arts and Science will honor one of the university’s most revered alumni with the launch of the James Lawson Institute for the Research and Study of Nonviolent Movements at Vanderbilt University.

The institute, drawing on rich local history, will nurture evidence-based research and education rooted in nonviolent strategies, create and deepen partnerships in Nashville, and develop leaders equipped to contribute to a thriving society.

Launching this fall, the institute will host public workshops, seminars and learning opportunities to train the next generation of community organizers equipped with the skills to make meaningful, sustainable change.

Lawson came to Nashville having studied Mahatma Gandhi’s path of nonviolent change, or Sathyagraha, which translates as “holding firm to the truth.” After his time in India, Lawson had a fateful meeting at Oberlin College with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who urged Lawson to participate in the urgent struggle in the American South. After coming to Vanderbilt Divinity School as a transfer student in 1958, Lawson led workshops focused on strategies for nonviolent discipline. From these workshops, Lawson and other students from Vanderbilt Divinity School, American Baptist College, Meharry Medical College, and Fisk and Tennessee State universities formed the Nashville Student Movement. Their sit-ins at segregated downtown lunch counters helped lay the foundation for Freedom Rides throughout the South.

Lawson paid a heavy price for his activism, with Vanderbilt expelling him in 1960 for his role. The expulsion made national news, and the dean of the Divinity School and many faculty and students left the university in protest. Yet, living his convictions of peace and forgiveness, Lawson eventually reconciled with Vanderbilt and returned to teach as a Distinguished University Professor."...(much more at link)

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