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LA County Board of Supervisors and LA City Council honor Rev. James Lawson Jr.

Pictured is Rev. James Lawson Jr. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the LA City Council honored the UCLA lecturer by dedicating Sept. 22 to his accomplishments. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Matthew Royer

Sept. 27, 2023 10:47 a.m.

This post was updated Sept. 27 at 10:21 p.m.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the LA City Council honored Rev. James Lawson Jr. on Friday by dedicating Sept. 22 to his life accomplishments.

Lawson, a labor studies lecturer, is considered one of the leading theorists and strategists of nonviolence – the theory of collective action for peaceful protest – throughout the world, said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center. Friday also marked Lawson’s 95th birthday, which was declared “Rev. James Lawson Jr. Day” in the city and county.

Lawson is best known for his work toward desegregating the South and organizing the civil rights movement in Memphis and Nashville alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. He moved to LA in 1974 and has continued his work as a pastor and activist since then. Lawson has also taught at UCLA for more than 20 years.

During a board of supervisors meeting Sept. 12, LA County District 2 Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell and District 1 Supervisor Hilda L. Solis presented on Lawson’s career accomplishments and why his life deserves recognition by the county.

Mitchell said during the meeting that Lawson is an iconic American and Angeleno, adding that his work holding the country accountable to the United States’ Constitution has changed the world.

“Reverend James Lawson is truly a titan among us,” Mitchell said. “Reverend Lawson continues to speak out against racism and violence and in support of immigration rights, equal rights for the LGBTQIA+ community and … justice for low-wage workers.”

Mitchell said during the meeting that Lawson’s work during the civil rights movement has inspired thousands worldwide to advance the philosophy of nonviolence, end racial discrimination and strengthen workers through the end of today’s economic systems – which Lawson calls plantation capitalism, the result of post-slavery reorganization of society.

During the meeting, Lawson was also honored by Solis – who worked with him when she served as the U.S. Secretary of Labor and as a member of Congress – for helping establish the UCLA Labor Center, which the university renamed in his honor in 2021.

[Related Link: UCLA Labor Center renames building to honor Reverend James Lawson Jr.]

Wong, Lawson’s co-lecturer for the course Labor Studies M173: “Nonviolence and Social Movements,” said it is his privilege to teach and publish alongside Lawson.

“For more than 20 years, we at UCLA are so fortunate to have Reverend Lawson as part of our community, as part of our teaching faculty and as someone who has not only made a huge difference in his own life but has always invested in younger generations to carry on this work,” Wong said.

As part of the motion, the board of supervisors also announced a “Know Your Rights” campaign during October in honor of Lawson’s work in the LA labor sector.

The LA City Council also honored Lawson on Sept. 19, following the board of supervisors’ lead, by proclaiming Friday “Rev. James Lawson Jr. Day” in the city as well.

District 13 Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez – who presented the proclamation to the council – said during the meeting that Lawson’s decision to come to LA during a time of mass immigration and anti-union rhetoric helped revitalize the labor movement in the city.

Soto-Martinez added that while many know King or Rep. John R. Lewis, he felt people often failed to acknowledge both were trained in nonviolence and activism by Lawson. He said by honoring Lawson, the city is recognizing the efforts and achievements he has accomplished across the country and in LA.

“I want to reiterate our commitment in creating the beloved community and honoring those folks on whose shoulders we stand today,” Soto-Martinez said.

District 8 Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, District 10 Councilmember Heather Hutt and District 26 state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo joined Martinez in presenting the proclamation and discussing their connections to Lawson.

Hutt also introduced a motion during the meeting to name the mile stretch outside Holman United Methodist Church, where Lawson preached, as the “Rev. James Lawson Mile.”

Wong said students have the opportunity to honor Lawson and to learn from him by taking his course this fall.

“We are teaching again this fall quarter,” he said. “It is a remarkable opportunity for UCLA students to learn from a living legend.”

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Matthew Royer | News and Sports senior staff
Royer is a senior staff reporter for the News and Sports sections of the Bruin. He was previously the 2022-2023 assistant News editor for the city and crime beat.
Royer is a senior staff reporter for the News and Sports sections of the Bruin. He was previously the 2022-2023 assistant News editor for the city and crime beat.
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