Civil rights activist James Lawson recognized with UCLA Medal

Civic Engagement

Acclaimed civil rights activist and a man Martin Luther King Jr. once hailed as the world’s leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence, the Rev. James Lawson Jr. has been honored with the UCLA Medal, the campus’s highest honor.

Nominated by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Lawson’s recognition comes as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of both the death of King, who was a close friend and colleague of Lawson, and the historic Memphis sanitation strike, which Lawson, now 90, helped lead.

“Despite the vicious opposition the civil rights movement endured, despite the ongoing violence we see from Ferguson to Charleston to Pittsburgh and abroad, James Lawson has remained steadfast in his commitment to nonviolence as both a political tactic and a moral calling,” said Chancellor Block on Nov. 28 to an audience of several hundred people.

The crowd gathered in Carnesale Commons included Lawson’s wife, Dorothy, and their sons; California State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who both spoke as part of the program; members of Holman United Methodist Church, where Lawson served as pastor; members of the labor community; and UCLA labor studies students, many of whom have taken Lawson’s wildly popular class on non-violence and social movements, which Lawson has taught since 2003.

“His message to us is as urgent as it was in the 1950s and ’60s: That we must commit ourselves to peaceful means of resolving conflicts and to live with the compassion and empathy necessary to realize that our well-being is tied to that of others, and that justice is everyone’s responsibility,” said Block, who presented the UCLA Medal to Lawson.

Read more on UCLA Newsroom.
Read Chancellor Block’s speech.

Abel Valenzuela, professor of Chicano studies and urban planning and director of UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment; Mark Ridley-Thomas, Los Angeles County supervisor; Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center; the Rev. James Lawson; California State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo; UCLA Chancellor Gene Block; Darnell Hunt, dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College.