Celebrating James Lawson Jr.’s Birthday

James Morris Lawson, Jr. was born September 22, 1928. He grew up the sixth of nine children and followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps receiving his ministry license in 1947. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. convinced Lawson to move to Nashville where he enrolled in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University in 1958 and began teaching nonviolent protest techniques.

In February and March of 1960 James Lawson organized and led the Nashville Sit-Ins, a formidable action for non-violent desegregation efforts in the growing Civil Rights Movement.

Arrest of JML, Jr. at the First Baptist Church in Nashville on March 4, 1960, James M. Lawson, Jr. Papers, Vanderbilt Special Collections and University Archives

Lawson was expelled from the Vanderbilt Divinity School on March 3, 1960, for his role in the Sit-Ins. He was arrested the next day at the First Baptist Church on charges of conspiring to violate the state’s trade and commerce law.

Over time Vanderbilt and Reverend Lawson reconciled and he returned to campus as a Distinguished University Professor, teaching from 2006 to 2009.

He donated a significant portion of his papers to Vanderbilt University Special Collections in 2013. Special Collections recently acquired the James M. Lawson, Jr. Photograph Collection.

To view this collection please visit the Special Collections website.

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