Sep 19, 2018

Civil Rights pioneer visits Fresno State

Rev. James Lawson Jr. spoke at Fresno State last Wednesday to Friday, sharing his Civil Rights era experiences with audiences of students, faculty and other guests.  

While living in India, Lawson developed a deep appreciation of, and was inspired by, Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolence philosophy. Upon returning to the United States, Lawson met Martin Luther King Jr. and worked with him during the Civil Rights Movement.

King encouraged Lawson to demonstrate and teach his nonviolence approach in the South. In Nashville, Tennessee, Lawson led peaceful sit-ins that helped desegregate the city’s lunch counters.

King called Lawson “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.”

Last Wednesday, students joined Lawson in viewing his documentaries, “A Force More Powerful” and “Love & Solidarity.”

On Thursday evening, a full house filled the North Gym where guests listened to Lawson’s lecture and asked questions before getting their copies of “Nonviolence and Social Movements” signed.

On Friday morning, Lawson engaged with students in Dr. Andrew Fiala’s classroom on more current matters of civil rights and the ethics of love and justice. Lawson offered encouraging advice to the philosophy students.

“Without justice, love has no body, no strength, no social impact,” Lawson said. “Justice is what you seek to see happen in the community.”

Dr. Veena Howard and Fiala helped coordinate Lawson’s appearance at Fresno State.

“He is a legendary person who is a living example of who really creatively used nonviolence resistance and mobilized people for justice,” Howard said.               

As a Gandhi scholar herself, Howard came across Lawson’s documentary “A Force More Powerful” about 10 years ago.

“I was just so amazed and intrigued,” Howard said. “I had never seen anyone using Gandhi’s methods so creatively.” 

Lawson lives in Los Angeles and continues to be an activist for nonviolence, but that made him hard to find.

“I didn’t know how to find him,” Howard said. “He doesn’t have an agent and is not on social media.”

She said she worked for eight months to bring him to Fresno State.

Fiala said it was inspiring to hear Lawson use Rosa Parks as an example to reassure students that individuals can make change if they are strategic about it.

“He also did say to the students more than once – focus in and live your life because you only get one life and it’s a gift of the universe,” Fiala said.

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