Jan 23 2006
12:04 pm
By: Andy Axel

As the history of the civil rights movement is written, sprawling passages are rightfully dedicated to the legacy of Dr. James Lawson, once dubbed "the leading nonviolence theorist in the world" by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lawson was recently bestowed with the title of Distinguished Alumnus from Vanderbilt University, the school from which he was expelled for his role in orchestrating The Nashville Lunch Counter Sit-Ins.

MP3 of his 2006 keynote address at Vanderbilt can be found here.

And courtesy of today's Tennessean, there's an anecdote about the power of faith, forgiveness, and walking the walk.

Lawson finished his studies at Boston University, then came back to Tennessee, eventually moving to Memphis as pastor of a large church. He became involved in the sanitation workers' strike, and it was at Lawson's invitation that his close friend King came to Memphis, where he was assassinated.

A few months later, Lawson was having breakfast with his wife and saw a picture in the newspaper of James Earl Ray in his Memphis jail cell. He told his wife that he was going to try to visit Ray. Curious to see what kind of person could do such a horrible thing, Lawson wrote down some questions he wanted to ask, then went to the jail. Ray was told only that a minister was visiting, and he granted permission for Lawson to see him.

Lawson said that when he walked into that cell, he saw the most lost and forlorn man he had ever met. He balled up the paper with his questions and put it in his pocket and instead talked to Ray as a minister. After a while, he asked Ray if he would like for him to pray, and when the answer was yes, he knelt on the floor of the jail and prayed. As he stood to leave, Lawson asked Ray if he would like for him to come back again, and Ray replied that he would.

So over the next several months, Lawson became Ray's prison minister.

When people ask me why I decided to call Tennessee home (being an Illinois native by birth), I point them to this -- the rich, historic, and living legacy of the people and communities.

S Carpenter's picture

Great story and a true, real

Great story and a true, real life definition of progressive.

kag's picture

This story made my

This story made my day.



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