Civil Rights Pioneer Reverend James Lawson Jr. Receives UCLA’s Highest Honor

The man who Martin Luther King once praised as the “leading theorist and strategist for non-violence in the world” has been awarded UCLA’s highest honor.

Reverend James Lawson Jr., a Civil Rights Movement pioneer who has taught Nonviolence and Labor Movements for the past 15 years, received the UCLA Medal Wednesday in a program sponsored by UCLA’s the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE). Administrators from the city and the world of organized labor were on hand along with students, friends and well-wishers. Attendees and featured speakers included Darnell Hunt, Dean of Social Sciences, IRLE Director Abel Valenzuela, State Senator and former LA County Federation of Labor President Maria Elena Durazo and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

After receiving the medal, Lawson, 90, gave an impassioned speech on the importance of carrying on legacies of non-violence. During his more than 50 years an activist, Lawson was jailed for refusing to fight in the Korean War. He was deeply involved in the Montgomery bus boycotts and helped organize the striking sanitation workers in Memphis in the late 1960s.

“We are not as human beings where history wants us to be,” Lawson said. “We are not where creation wants us to be. We are only part way in that journey.”

Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, noted that he and Lawson have been longtime colleagues in the classroom

“It has been a wonderful experience for me to have had the privilege of teaching this class with Reverend Lawson for the past 15 years and we’ll be teaching it again in the spring quarter of 2019,” Wong said. “But from the looks of the turnout today, we may need to get a bigger lecture hall.”

Wong announced that a new initiative has been established in Lawson’s name. Via the Lawson Legacy, UCLA will invite a scholar or an activist to present a lecture on the theme of non-violence. The University will also be awarding a scholarship in Lawson’s name to a deserving student who embodies the theory and practice of non-violent activism.

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