His accomplishments include working for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference under Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr., and with peace and social action groups such as the NAACP, Urban League, and others.
James Lawson was paid tribute by U.S. Congressman from Georgia, John Lewis, in his autobiography, Walking With the Wind, forbeing the architect of the nonviolent direct action strategy of the evolving civil rights movement in the 1960s and for training the first leadership. John Lewis said, “Jim 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. Lawson was arming us, preparing us, and planting in us a sense of both rightness and righteousness. A soul force that would see us through the ugliness and pain that lay ahead, all in pursuit of what he and Dr. King called, ‘The Beloved Community.’ ”
Author David Halberstam inscribed a copy of his book, The 50’s, which he sent to Lawson with these words, “For Jim Lawson, who began as much as anyone else the revolution into the next decade.”
Jim Lawson is and has been a working minister in the United Methodist Church for more than forty years. He is third generation clergy, helping to organize Black Methodists for Church Renewal in the late 1960s, and serving as its first president working in an official capacity in five general conferences of the United Methodist Church, on a host of special commissions, and the World Council of Churches.
In 1982, Jim Lawson chaired Peace Sunday in Los Angeles and brought together 100,000 people in the Rose Bowl. A week later he addressed 125,000 marchers in the streets of West Berlin. In 1989-90, he was a key figure in the Wednesday Morning Coalition for Peace and Justice in San Salvador and Los Angeles. He still teaches nonviolence and works with the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolence in Los Angeles, in addition to his pastorate of the United Methodist Church in LA, and national chair for the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
In the academic world, Jim Lawson has served as Regent Lecturer at the University of California at Riverside, Brooks Professor in Religion at the University of Southern California, and Adjunct Professor at the School of Theology at Claremont. He hosts a weekly national cable network television program, in his words, “examining current affairs through the lens of compassion and justice.” And he continues to work with the working poor, including union organizing of the poor.
He is, indeed, a man who in no small way helped to lead the contemporary civil rights movement that brought historic social change to the United States of America.