United Methodist the Rev. Jim Lawson was a friend and fellow "warrior of peace" with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He played a prominent role in the civil rights movement.
He became aware of King while serving as a missionary in India and reading about the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. When he met King in 1957 on the campus of Oberlin (Ohio) College, both men recognized a common commitment to nonviolence as a way to change U.S. society.
Narrator: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood for equality for all. Many United Methodists valued his vision and his leadership. The Rev. James Lawson described King's impact on him and others.
Choir: I'm gonna put on my long white robe, down by, yes I am.
The Rev. James Lawson: I saw Martin Luther King as the Moses of the last half of the 20th century. It is said that Martin King embodied love. He is the word of love made flesh, and I think that that's very true. Martin, you were a greater instrument of the purpose of God and the word of God for my life personally and for our world. I marveled then at the way in which you were able to frame the questions of faith and justice and nonviolence and love and truth. It is too bad that many people relegate you to civil rights and not to theologian, pastor, a profoundly called man who found his life turned upside down by God's call. I saw him twice on April the 4th, the day he was assassinated. What was left unsaid on that day, perhaps, might have been how much I appreciated his life and his leadership and to the extent to which I understood that to be indeed a carrying of the Cross that very few people recognized or understood. One of the heritages of the 50s and 60s and 70s is that we have more Americans today who are, really, very much aware that our society is not the best that it can be, that the schizophrenia between our claim to be democratic and then some of the issues, like sexism and racism, economic exploitation and opportunity, that that split still goes on. Love and truth and compassion still are the only ways by which we human beings can create the kind of nation or world that we deeply hunger for.
In 1959, Lawson began leading workshops on nonviolence, which led to the successful campaign to desegregate lunch counters in downtown Nashville, Tenn.
Lawson saw King shortly before the civil rights leader was slain April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., and participated in the investigation into the assassination. In the spirit of his friend, Lawson talked to James Earl Ray, the accused killer, on many occasions and even performed his jail cell marriage and, later, his funeral service.
Born in Uniontown, Pa., the son of a preacher, Lawson continues to teach nonviolence and fight for the rights of the oppressed.
His reflections are part of a series about United Methodists who walked with King.
Hear Lawson and others share their thoughts when seasoned leaders are featured on a Dismantling Racism panel discussion.
This video encore was first posted in February 2015 and updated January 2022.