The Dallas Peace Center jump-started Black History Month by inviting Reverend James Lawson, one of the most famous of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s contemporaries in the civil rights movement, for a three day tour beginning January 31. February 1 was the anniversary of the sit-in by African American activists at Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, South Carolina. It was a milestone of the movement!
Lawson organized the desegregation of downtown Nashville, Tennessee. Among the many activists he mentored was young John Lewis, now a noted U.S. Congressman. When bus-burning Klansmen nearly ended the “freedom rides” that were begun by another organization, Lawson’s volunteers from Nashville went to Alabama and carried the actions through to a successful conclusion.
In Dallas, Lawson appeared at a special reception at the African-American Museum, church at St Luke’s, a formal presentation at the Black Academy of Arts & Letters, and a luncheon with other veteran activists hosted by Reverend L. Charles Stovall. Reverend Stovall is a local hero of civil rights struggles. A number of the long-time activists in attendance had attended the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. A great deal of local civil rights history owes its leadership to those Methodist ministers, both African American and Anglo.
The topic at the final luncheon was “How to Obtain Justice.” Reverend Lawson said, “What passes for justice in this country is sometimes criminal.... We have in this country a dominant political system that sees problems as an opportunity to create division and discord.” He went on to say that there are 90 million Americans living in poverty. “Five women a day,” he asserted, “are being murdered by their husbands, boyfriends, and others.”
Foreign affairs soon entered the dialogue with condemnations of the U.S. role in supporting Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Lawson commented, “American policy, military policy, is the number one problem for peace and justice in the world...” He warned that imperialist forces planned to build military bases “up and down the East Coast of Africa” and that America was in danger of becoming a “colossal tyrant such as human history has never known.”
Most of the questions for Reverend Lawson had to do with how to achieve unity in the struggles for justice. He said, “By taking on specific projects that require mobilization, education, and recruitment.” He was especially proud of the way that his home-town progressives in Los Angeles had come together to support the “Justice for Janitors” organizing drive. “The issue,” he said wisely, “is how you do the work.”