Standing up for truth and justice in nonviolent ways can be difficult and even painful, but the end result makes for a better world, the Rev. James Lawson told students and others Tuesday during the final event of James Madison University's Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week.
Lawson, a friend and colleague of King, discussed “Nonviolent Action for Civil Rights” in front of a packed lecture hall in the Health and Human Services building. The event was sponsored by JMU’s Center for Multicultural Student Services and Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence.
"When you stand on truth and beauty and justice, when you stand for that in your life, sometimes you take punishment for it," said Lawson, who was imprisoned for 14 months as a conscientious objector to the draft in the 1950s and who later was expelled from divinity school at Vanderbilt University for organizing nonviolent protests to racial segregation in Tennessee. "You can take risks in which you get injured and imprisoned and killed, but fundamentally what does happen to you is . . . it really strengthens your own confidence in being human and in living and in working and sometimes tackling the difficulties."
Lawson also told students they should value their education and that they have the intellect and ability to determine the truth and to shape the world they want to live in. "You know how to research and get as much of the picture as you can for yourself," he said, noting the students will have to weigh conflicting points of view throughout their lives.
From his studies of Gandhi, Lawson said he learned, "The first step is to investigate thoroughly and see people in the situation and act out of being informed . . . act out of being passionate about the necessity of having social, political, cultural change."
Throughout the lecture, Lawson recounted historical acts of nonviolence. One of the most important in the United States, he said, was the women's movement that led to the 19th Amendment allowing women to vote. Another, of course, was the civil rights movement that he helped lead.
January 21, 2010