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Sep 19, 2002 , vol. 25, no. 2

By Marianne Meadahl

A clergyman noted for helping to lead the contemporary civil rights movement in the U.S. is the recipient of the Thakore Charitable Foundation visiting scholar award for 2002.

Reverend James Lawson is a former Methodist missionary who became a prominent Christian leader in the American South, joining forces with Martin Luther King Jr. to become one of the principal architects of the African-American civil rights struggle.

The award is co-sponsored by SFU's institute for the humanities, in cooperation with the Thakore Charitable Foundation and the India Club of Vancouver. It was created in 1991 by the late Natverlal Thakore, a former member of SFU's education faculty, to honour individuals who show creativity, commitment and a concern for truth, justice and non-violence in public life, qualities that Gandhi valued.

The presentation is held in conjunction with the celebration of Gandhi's birthday on Oct. 2. The award ceremony will be held at SFU's Images Theatre beginning at 7:30 p.m., following the Gandhi commemorative ceremony at 6:45 p.m. at the Gandhi bust, located on the south side of the academic quadrangle.

Lawson is one of the few peace activists who has scientifically studied Gandhi's approach to non-violence and has successfully applied it in the U.S. He studied Gandhi's techniques in Nagpur, India, and became a role model for nonviolent action with his imprisonment for resisting the draft during the Korean War. Later, his workshops on non-violence, delivered throughout the South, were considered by Martin Luther King to be models for the civil rights movement.

U.S. Congressman John Lewis praised Lawson for being the architect of the nonviolent direct action strategy of the evolving civil rights movement and for training its first leadership. “Lawson was arming us, preparing us, and planting in us a sense of both rightness and righteousness,” said Lewis. “Lawson knew, though we had no idea when we began, that we were being trained for a war, unlike any this nation had seen up to that time - a nonviolent struggle that would force this country to face its conscience.”

A third generation cleric, Lawson maintains ties with the Methodist ministry he served for more than 40 years. He also helped to organize Black Methodists for Church Renewal in the late 1960s and served as its first president. In 1982 Lawson chaired Peace Sunday in Los Angeles and brought together 100,000 people. A week later he addressed 125,000 marchers in the streets of West Berlin.

He later became a key figure in the Wednesday Morning Coalition for Peace and Justice in San Salvador and Los Angeles. He continues to teach nonviolence and works with the Martin Luther King Centre for Nonviolence in Los Angeles.