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1964-03-17 Interview with James M. Lawson, March 17, 1964 RPWCR001:02OH109RPWCR04 01:28:56 Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries Lawson, James M., 1928---Interviews Vanderbilt University Civil rights movements Civil rights workers African American--Civil rights Nonviolence Nonviolence--Philosophy Civil rights demonstrations--Tennessee--Nashville Civil Rights demonstrations Southern Christian Leadership Conference National Association for the Advancement of Colored People African American leadership Civil rights--Leadership Civil rights--Tennessee--Memphis Civil rights--Tennessee—Nashville King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1929-1968 Clark, Kenneth Bancroft, 1914-2005 Evers, Charles, 1922- James M. Lawson; interviewee Robert Penn Warren; interviewer 02OH109RPWCR04_Lawson 1:|33(4)|47(9)|61(10)|78(7)|92(2)|113(11)|134(3)|146(3)|158(3)|180(8)|199(12)|218(2)|234(7)|248(10)|261(4)|271(13)|283(10)|292(13)|305(5)|326(2)|352(7)|366(6)|376(12)|389(6)|412(1)|422(13)|435(7)|448(2)|465(8)|483(14)|501(6)|526(4)|552(6)|565(5)|578(6)|597(2)|609(13)|628(5)|644(11)|669(2)|684(11)|700(1)|710(12)|745(8)|767(7)|786(1)|799(2)|813(12)|840(9)|861(2)|877(2)|904(8)|919(6)|933(11)|946(7)|974(6)|989(6)|1002(5)|1014(6)|1031(4)|1059(9)|1082(4)|1098(5)|1129(8)|1181(1)|1209(1)|1230(9)|1258(5)|1288(12)|1324(5)|1334(10)|1352(5)|1369(2)|1391(1)|1406(3)|1417(3)|1434(8)|1456(1)|1474(2)|1488(7)|1500(11)|1517(3)|1531(8)|1554(8)|1566(6)|1581(11)|1604(2)|1627(8) audiotrans rpwcr interview WARREN: Record. Record. Record. This is a recording of Reverend J. M. Lawson, uh, Memphis, Ten-- [Pause in recording.] WARREN: Shall we start with some vital statistics? LAWSON: Yes, sir. WARREN: Just to, I have some of those, of course, because we rehearsed them (??). Where were you born, Mr. Lawson? LAWSON: In Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Nineteen twenty-eight. WARREN: And you went to school there? LAWSON: No. I was born in a Methodist parsonage and before we started to school, before I started to school, rather, we had moved to Massillon (??), Ohio, and I did all of my, um, secondary work in Ohio. WARREN: Where did you go to college and seminary? LAWSON: Then I went to Baldwin-Wallace College, a Methodist college outside of Cleveland, Ohio. I've done my seminary work at Oberlin Graduate School of Theology and Vanderbilt Divinity School and Boston University. WARREN: You left Vanderbilt to go to Boston after a difficulty there? LAWSON: Yes, I did. WARREN: (??), I remember it. Do you mind going into that matter the, the Vanderbilt situation, the Nashville situation a little bit? LAWSON: No. This began in Nashville actually in the early part of 1959 when the local affiliate of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference started the process of neg--negotiation in the downtown area. We adopted the downtown because we felt that we wanted to, uh, somehow focus the attention of the city on the major problems of segregation and, uh, and the need for genuine integration. We felt the downtown was the best place to get this problem focused. Well, then we went on through a process of negotiation, and workshops, and training of students and adults, and testing them in the downtown area, testing some of the places that we'd gone to for negot--for negotiation. And then, of course, we began what we call the public phase in February of 1960--uh, February, in fact, February thirteenth was the first major sit-in in the downtown area. WARREN: Were you in that sit-in? LAWSON: No, I was not. I organized it, and briefed it, and brought the people together but as (??) I remember I was out of the city on that first sit-in. Then, um, for about two weeks we had sit-ins, which were highly successful in a variety of ways--in numbers, in terms of the impact, in terms of making a public issue. Of course, it became a public issue. Also, in speaking to negro people, negro people responded to this, uh, almost immediately and instantaneously. But about the twenty-seventh of February, in that last week I know, we--we discovered that the merchants had gone down to the mayor and the city police and said, 'You've got to stop the sit-in.' We in turn went to the city police. We had-- WARREN:--how big an organization, or was it an organization of much that did this, or was it just simply a few who took it upon themselves, or do you know? LAWSON: It seemed to be the ones who had been involved as far as we could, were able to find out. It wasn't--it was a loosely-knit group, simply people got together out of a mutual concern and problem, and not any organization as such. Well, we also tried to make overtures to the mayor. We had an independent ministers group. The mayor refused to see them. This was a multiracial group incidentally. The mayor was unavailable to anyone, both from our, within the movement and also then from the independent groups that tried to see him. We did have interviews with the chief of police who told us very bluntly that if we demonstrated on the following Saturday there would be arrests, and said that he had been instructed by the, uh, mayor to find what laws could be used, and this is what he told us. He said the legal department was searching for laws and he said to, he, he told us that the laws that would probably be used would either be the trespass one, or, uh, breaking the peace, breaching the peace. So we knew this, so we knew as we went into that last weekend, that weekend rather, and approached demonstration that, uh, arrests were certain to be the case. Well, that, that was what happened. I think it was on February twenty-eighth that, then that we had a major sit-in. There were arrests. We had a program designed, um, expecting either arrest and/or violence, and both occurred because up to this time, well, the police had been very protective and making certain the crowds kept moving, that people kept moving, so that there's no, you know, not too much harassment during the demonstrate, demonstrations. This Saturday, suddenly the police disappeared; we didn't see them. And, um, of course, then the crowds formed, and young white men formed into hood groups, and surrounded the people, and into stores, and whatnot. So, that we saw both violence, and then the police came in and proceeded to arrest people. WARREN: Excuse me. [Pause in recording.] WARREN: Then the police came in, you say? LAWSON: Yes. Then the police proceeded very early in the day to come, to come to at least two of the stores and arrest people. Well, of course, we were prepared for this, but, and we were also prepared then to have them arrest several hundred people. When they discovered that there was no end to the arrests, that they were simply going in the store arresting and as soon as they arrested that group, moved to another store, then other people had moved in, they stopped arresting after about an hour and a half of this. Well, they, in any case, this created then even further mobilization, both of the movement and in terms of its support. We got the representatives of the various denominations to call all their pastors to make major presentations in every negro church that next Sunday morning. Um, they also went further in, in demanding that the mayor come before them and talk to them. They, of course, also then began to do such things as to raise money and to get underneath the whole effort. Well, on Monday morning when the mayor had been unavailable, they simply sent him a telegram Sunday night asking him to show up at a meeting, and this meeting was held at First Baptist Church, and over three hundred negro ministers of the city were there. WARREN: And that is the church with, um, um, Mr. Kenneth Smith-- LAWSON: (??) Kelly (??) Smith, right-- WARREN:--yes-- LAWSON:--is the, is the pastor of that church at the present moment as well. Well, the meeting had been planned by a special committee. They had asked that about three men would question the mayor as to his policy both concerning segregation, and as to why violence were permitted, and as to why arrests occurred. Now, actually I had been out of the city on that Sunday because I had a speaking engagement for a mass meeting of the effort going on in Chattanooga. When I returned late that night I was told, "You are to summarize for the mayor's benefit what this is all about, what we have as our goals, and what we are trying to do." So at the end of this meeting with the mayor then I was asked to give the summary, which I did. The mayor as an example had emphasized the fact that, that the sit-in was a trespass upon private property. I took the stance in answering this, that human rights took precedence over any other kind of right, and I quoted Abraham Lincoln, and then went onto to, uh, enunciate what seemed to me to be certain Christian principles that, that, uh, were valid here. He had stressed the fact that this was a breaking of the law, and then I went on to suggest, to say, rather that where the law was an impeding law, where the law was used simply to oppress people, then it wasn't, uh, uh, really a law; it wasn't justice; it wasn't consistent with democratic thought, and certainly was inconsistent with Christian thought. And I used the statements such as this, that out of the arrests occurred not because of the law was an effort to preserve the finest values of our society, but in this instance the law was a gimmick, uh, to intimidate, harass, and if possible halt a legitimate movement of, of social concern and justice. WARREN: Would you distinguish on that part about the relevance of law between, uh, the nonviolent, uh, obstruction of law and the violent, uh, breach of law? LAWSON: Oh, yes, definitely. Um, from the nonviolent perspective, when one finds that in order to continue to act in a just and, and in a matter of conscience, when he discovers that he's coming up against the law, he does this in a peaceful creative fashion, ready always to take the consequences of the law. I think he indicates and shows his respect for the law, and his recognition that we, we are a society of law. We have to be for to be a democratic society-- WARREN:--it's a direct recognition of the fact the society is a society of law, is implicit in the whole process-- LAWSON:--right-- WARREN:--as I understand (??)-- LAWSON: Exactly. And I and I think this can be traced, of course, in American history. A favorite illustration of mine is the fact that, um, we got our first, um, resolution, our religious liberty in the state of Virginia out of the civil disobedience of primarily Baptist ministers who insisted that they had the right to proclaim the gospel, had the right to organize congregations in a colony where you had an established religion. And, uh, Patrick Henry proposed this first resolution, and it is said that he proposed it after hearing Baptist ministers preach out of the windows of jails where they had been incarcerated for their breaking of the Virginian, of the Virginia law. WARREN: I didn't want to interrupt the narrative except to get that point-- LAWSON:--right-- WARREN:--clearly, clearly defined. LAWSON: Um-hm. Um-hm. Well, of course, the mayor hearing this whole statement, then immediately said, "This man is calling for a bloodbath in the streets of Nashville." I'm positive that he was simply trying, if possible, to get himself off of the hook politically because here, he was being confronted by men who had supported him in election after election, and he-- WARREN:--you're talking now about this group of ministers? LAWSON: This group of ministers, they had supported him. He was considered a moderate and he knew that now, uh, they were not simply questioning him, but they were in a sense challenging his behavior, his handling of the whole situation in the city that was of primary, of course, importance to them. Well, of course, the newspapers picked up the mayor's comments, and, in particular, the afternoon paper, the Nashville Banner, immediately then proceeded to editorialize upon the calling for a bloodbath, and this event went on to investigations, although not in any kind of interviewing, interviews with me personally. WARREN: You mean, the calling for a bloodbath by the mayor, this just, this was interpreted, this was interpreted as an advocacy in a subtle way of violence? LAWSON: Yes, not only that, but also they accepted the mayor's point of view as an opportunity then to say that, uh, J. M. Lawson was an outside agit--agitator, sympathetic with the communist design. Um, well, this is the kind of line began to appear both editorially and in newspaper articles. WARREN: What line on the matter of a bloodbath, uh, did the Banner take? LAWSON: Uh, they gave it a headline space, as I recall, in the afternoon paper, quoting the words of the mayor and then went down in the main article to describe what the mayor had said, leaving out most of what I had said in the statement that was to be an answer to the mayor. Excuse me. Then, of course, as I say, editorial they, they supported the mayor. Editorially, they said that the mayor was quite right. That the sit-in campaign, particularly as, um--um, described, um, by this supposed Methodist minister--I think was the phrase they often used--certainly did mean violence, and did mean a bloodbath, and that surely did break up, they said, the whole structure of law and order, and showed a--a gross disrespect for law and order and for democratic processes. WARREN: What about the, um, the, what about the relations at Vanderbilt Theological School? LAWSON: Well, right, that, of course, immediately as this went on--particularly in the afternoon--the chancellor, I understand, at Vanderbilt began to receive, um, many phone calls from primarily prominent alumni. Uh, and also, I understand, from the mayor and from some other people downtown concerning my presence at the school. Uh, asking me how I--asking him, I gather, uh, how Vanderbilt permitted me to be there. In fact, by Tuesday the Banner editorials were saying that, uh, I had been using Vanderbilt University as a nefarious base of operation, uh, from which I was trying to subvert. Of course, at this time I was a part-time employer--employee, rather, of the Fellowship of Reconciliation as the Southern staff secretary, uh, working in the field of nonviolence and reconciliation throughout the South. I had been moving and in and out of some of the tension places like Birmingham, and Little Rock, Arkansas, was going through a year of crisis, '57, to '59. I was going in there in fact almost once a month during this--I mean rather prior to that period, '57, '58. Well, in other words, the chancellor then began to receive all kinds of pressure questioning my, um, responsibility, my integrity as a student, and whatnot, and my motives for being at Vanderbilt. These pressures then were reflected in the dean. In fact, as I recall, the dean was ordered Monday night to get a statement from me, the dean of the divinity school was ordered to get a statement from me on Tuesday, denying what the mayor had said about me, and denying that I was all of these things. So, when I first reached the campus on Tuesday, Dr. Nelson asked to see me, and I went immediately, and this is what he said, and then later on the publicity, publicity director of the university came in to help, um, form this statement. My position here was that the damage had already been done, and, um, no statement on my part would counteract what the Banner was saying, or would counteract the many images that people had received from these scare headlines because I've, I've had a personal philosophy for a number of years that you listen only to the criticisms that is obviously valid, or that, that has real merit and weight, and at least, is motivated, is motivated out of genuine concern. But that, that public criticism obviously that is more an effort to delay, um, um, action or to delay a confrontation is not the kind of criticism that can really be answered. And so, but in any case I cooperated and we spent in fact the entire morning and afternoon, uh, with the publicity director and with Dr. Nelson trying to work out such a statement. We did get a statement written and we issued it. And that of course was insufficient. Um, Tuesday night, as I recall, the, um, Dr. Nelson informed me that the chancellor wanted me to withdraw from the school. I insisted that I must have, uh, some time to think about this. No, that's not right, not Tuesday night. Um, yes, Tuesday night he did call me and tell me that the next morning that the chancellor felt we needed to have another statement. So on Wednesday morning we got together again and I wrote still another statement. Wednesday night, uh, uh, Dr. Nelson called and came by my home and said that the chancellor was asking me to with--to withdraw or to be expelled. I took the position that I needed to have some time to think about it and that I did not feel, uh, as though I wanted to withdraw. Now, actually on Tuesday morning, I had said, I had said to Dean Nelson that if it seems that the university is being harmed by my presence, I will withdraw. I'll voluntarily withdraw. But as that day went on and the next day, it became very clear that there wasn't a question of the embarrassment of the university; it was rather a question of, of simply the, the questioning of my motives and of my integrity. It was, uh, uh, saying, 'Well, this press report obviously has some merit, and you're not responsible, and, uh, therefore you ought to withdraw because of this.' So, by Wednesday night late I had definitely decided that I would not withdraw. In fact, I recall telling, uh, Dean Nelson that within twenty-four hours after I were, would either withdraw or were expelled from Vanderbilt I would be arrested at some other charge in the city. So Thursday morning, the chancellor called a meeting of the divinity school faculty and students at which time he publicly announced that I had been expelled from the university. This was about ten o'clock AM. WARREN: May I interrupt? Um, the matter of being arrested was an arrest as you put yourself in a position to accept--not one that you predicted would happen to you--because of your, um, just your general relations? LAWSON: No. Yes. What-- WARREN:--which kind of arrest were you talking about? LAWSON: Yes, that's right. My-- WARREN:--one you seek, or one you would think would come to you? LAWSON: Right, no, my thesis was that, that leaving me as student at Vanderbilt Divinity School, Vanderbilt University would further embarrass the city if I were arrested as a student of the divinity school. And that simply by getting me, um, um, kicked out of the school, or away from the school with no attachment, then they would feel as though the arrest would be easier. WARREN: Yes, as you would be picked up, uh, you'd be sought out for arrest, you mean? LAWSON: Right, I would be sought out for arrest. WARREN: Not that you go seeking to be arrested-- LAWSON:--not, not that I would be demonstrating-- WARREN:--yes-- LAWSON:--or anything like that, but that, that I would be sought out for a specific arrest, right. WARREN: I see, yes, yes. LAWSON: So, um, I was expelled Thursday afternoon. We had, we were having mass meetings every night, and then, then workshops every day, and of course many planning sessions going on trying to keep the movement as creative as possible. But we learned Friday morning that the warrant for my arrest had been issued. And we were then in, in the process of a major evaluate--evaluating session at First Baptist Church when we learned of this news. And, of course, about two o'clock I think in the afternoon or so, several--four, rather, captains of the, the police department came to arrest me plus a number of other police officers, men. So I was arrested that Friday afternoon, um, on a charge of conspiring to disrupt business. That was the charge. So that, that in a sense was the, is the background of the Vanderbilt (??)-- WARREN:--now, the, a lot of the faculty supported your position, didn't they? LAWSON: Right. Then, um, the divinity school faculty said, even in that week, to me that, 'That if anything happen to you, it would be happening to us.' They took the attack after my expulsion that they would try to negotiate with the administration for my return to the campus. And this went on for, uh, over a month. Finally, they felt somehow they would get nowhere with the university, with the chancellor, and he was the key man. So they then had their admissions committee, um, reconsider my application for admission. I filled out a new application, blanks and all. They did this on the basis of a remark by the chancellor in one of their sessions that he thought if I were to return to the campus it would be, uh, through the regular channel of being admitted or readmitted. So they decided then that they would take this channel, and we--I cooperated with it. On, and so, so that in the early part of April, they had accepted me as a student, and they took this fact to the chancellor, laid my file on the chancellor's desk, and said, uh, that Lawson has been readmitted. He requested additional time to consider it. And incidentally, I should say, this was not in April, was in late May, sometime around commencement time. They felt he was delaying in order to get through commencement, and it turned out, turned out this was the case. Shortly after commencement, the day after the commencement in fact, he received the, the committee again and said that, "I cannot let, uh, Lawson be, uh--a student at the university." Well, immediately then the divinity school faculty almost to a man resigned. Their negotiations then were taken over by the med school people, and law school, and quite a number of the men in the physical sciences. In fact, a number of the physicists and biologists had been quite active all through here, both in terms of their own positions and, and with the divinity school faculty and with the administration. WARREN: That you felt you had the sympathy of the university faculty in general? LAWSON: Oh, yes, right. Because I understand now-- WARREN:--that's sometimes questioned, you see-- LAWSON:--yes, right-- WARREN:--tendentiously there. LAWSON: Yes, exactly. And in fact, one of the things that is not been said about this is, that after the divinity school faculty had resigned, then other faculty people took up negotiations and they did it in this way--and I was told this by men in the faculty--that they then went to the chancellor's office and said, "We have here the resignations of a hundred and sixty members of your faculty throughout the university." This included almost the entirety of the med school, as one example. "There are others," they said, "who are in the process of writing their letters." They said, "You must settle the Lawson matter; you cannot have him expelled in this manner." Now, it is my contention that at, it was only at this point that the chancellor decided that he had to do something, um, to reconsider the issue that had been made back in early March. Well, by this time I had already left the city because I did not want to postpone my BD beyond August, and so I went on to Boston University. They had made a very fine offer to me in terms of receiving my full credits and in terms of not making any further residential or academic requirements upon me other than that I would complete one semester, and they would accept the program that I had done at Oberlin and Vanderbilt, which they did. So my wife and I then left the city and went on to start at Boston U. WARREN: What was the consequence then at Vanderbilt? The issue was closed by default, is that it? LAWSON: No, the chancellor then issued a statement. And I'll try to remember it, as he issued it. In this statement, he said, "Number one, that the resignation of Dean Nelson would be accepted, um, as of August thirty-first, and he would, and he was relieved of any further responsibility in the university immediately. Number two, that Lawson could return to the university under the following conditions: He would not have to reenroll; he could either transfer his credits from Boston University and receive a degree from Vanderbilt; or he could return to the campus and consult with the professors he had when he was dismissed and make arrangements to finish his work with them. Um, either one of these courses to be completed by September fifteenth." And then his final word was, "The Lawson matter is now closed." I declined the offer primarily because I felt that in dismissing Dean Nelson, he was simply substituting one scapegoat for another. Number two-- WARREN:--that you couldn't profit by Dean Nelson's-- LAWSON:--yes, right. I could not profit by Dean Nelson being summarily dismissed and relieved of further responsibility and duty. Then I further felt--and, of course, continued to feel--that where people actively identify themselves with the whole effort for change, or equal opportunity and justice and whatnot, then we in the movement are responsible for identifying ourselves with them. In other words, a term that, that I've used in our, in many of our workshops, is that we are liable for one another. That we have a fundamental responsibility for surrounding one another with concern and affection, with understanding, and with creative support. WARREN: Let me, uh, take the topic on, uh, it's suggested by what you said about the Vanderbilt faculty. How significant do you think this support you found among the faculty is? In general, how would you, uh, project that to other places in the South? To what degree? LAWSON: Well, I suspect that probably, um, in your universities such as Vanderbilt, in your colleges-- WARREN:--you mean non-state supported (??) LAWSON: Right, non-state supported universities and colleges, you would find a, a probably, um, remarkably high percent, a high percentage of faculty people who, um, in a sense recognize the problem for what it is and have a, have a position, um, a personal position that is tantamount to support in varying ways and degrees. You will find, I think, probably a high percentage at other institutions, uh, other state institutions, although I think it would be, it would be less of a percentage than at these, um, um, privately supported or independently supported (??)-- WARREN:--now among the faculty people of, um, you say, non-state institutions like Duke or Vanderbilt? LAWSON: Um-hm. WARREN: Would you find a significant difference between the Southern born and--and the academic (??) from other parts of the country? LAWSON: No, no. On the contrary, um, one of the men that the ire of the university was turned to, towards most, most vehemently was a Southern boy in the faculty of Vanderbilt Divinity School, Everett Tilson, Virginia-born and Southern educated, and, in fact, one of the best scholars that Vanderbilt has produced. I mean he did his, he did his seminary work and plus his PhD work at Vanderbilt. WARREN: Yes, I know who he is. LAWSON: One of the best students. WARREN: The pressure you felt was from the community itself and what, uh, levels of the community then? LAWSON: The pressures on the university were from primarily, I, I think, primarily your business, uh, people and, and your wealthy alumni people because for, just as an example of this, the alumni, the alumnus organization of the seminary of the divinity school, um, voted support for me personally and--and criticized the administration for this kind of, of irresponsible action towards this legitimate student of, of the university. So, I think the most of the opposition--in fact, the chancellor admitted privately, um, in a conversation with the divinity school negotiation committee that if he had known in April what he--if he had known rather in March when I was expelled what he knew in April, nothing would have ever happened to me. In other words, he, he took the phone calls he received as being the major perspective, both of the city and of people to the sit-in campaign. WARREN: Well, do you think it was a representative, uh, slice in the city? LAWSON: No. WARREN: You think the city was, uh, would not have taken this line? LAWSON: That's right. I do not-- [Pause in recording.] LAWSON:--and because in fact, when the mayor did finally appoint a biracial committee, that biracial committee admitted that their mail, their presentations from varying organizations, from a whole variety of organizations in the city was overwhelmingly in favor of the city desegregated. WARREN: This is the mail from Nashville, Tennessee? LAWSON: Yes, this is the mail in Nashville, Tennessee, yes. WARREN: This is the end of tape 1 with Reverend J. M. Lawson of Memphis, Tennessee. Continue on tape 2. [Tape 1 ends; tape 2 begins.] WARREN: What you were saying about the support that the biracial commission received in Nashville reminds me of a remark by James Baldwin in his last book. He says that the Southern mob does not represent the will of the Southern majority. And bases it on the testimony that, he says of those most immediately concerned; that is, Negroes who are activists in the South who are on the picket line. LAWSON: Yes. WARREN: Does this make sense to you, or not? LAWSON: Yes, this is basically correct. And I've been recently reading--simply for, for more background information. I've been (??) reading in the field of history of the negro and history of American in, in the nineteenth-century. And the pattern by which a buffer was created between the slaveowner and the non slaveowner, and between the aristocracy to try to reassert itself after the Civil War and the negro, this buffer goes on now, and Nashville is a perfect example of this. WARREN: Well, let's explain that. LAWSON: Well, in Nashville, we have had--um, um, oh, since 1960 when we had our, began the public phase of our effort in Nashville, I cannot count the numbers of times that violence has been turned on and off. For example, the first sit-in campaign in--in the winter and the spring of 1960, we started off with complete police protection because, of course, we always informed the police chief what we were doing, and where we were going, and what stores we would be at, and the times we'd be there, and all. Oh, we had complete protection for two weeks. Young men came into the downtown area tried to form, tried to harass, and many of these groups were just moved off out of the downtown area by police officers. They were not allowed to move. Managers in stores, in fact, worked to see, see to it that unnecessary groups of, of small groups of people never, you know, stayed around their stores. I, I know this because I observed. I went into the many stores we were involved in around the downtown area throughout the demonstrations to see how things were going and all, and I saw this going on, in every store. Then suddenly this stopped. And we had gigantic mobs. Then when it became very clear that a settlement had to be made, the demonstrations went on under peaceful circumstances once again. WARREN: This would seem to imply then the mob does act out the will of the majority or at least the will of the rich and the powerful. LAWSON: Right, the power structure. Um, in fact, in Nashville--now, this wasn't the only time this happened. This happened in many instances. It happened with the demonstrations, with the campaign at the point of the downtown movie theaters. It happened in demonstrations in terms of grocery stores. It's happened in terms of demonstrations since that time in specific restaurant campaigns. On some occasions, the police themselves acted as the mob. I mean where they roughed up people or hit people or pushed people around. WARREN: This would seem to deny what Baldwin said then. And I'm, I'm going to make--now, let me get this straight-- LAWSON:--now only in this sense, the majority, not in the numerical sense, but majority in the power structure sense. In other words, I am, I am quite certain that in the Nashville scene it was primarily, uh, the mayor himself, and with possible a few of his closer friends, or even persons of influence on him who allowed the police to be present at one time and then to disappear the next moment. I'm certain that this was not the decision or the will because I can remember, for example, one instance of a demonstration on a, um, a main downtown street Nashville where the--the young white men had a chance to do a certain amount of violence and they chased one negro boy off the street. He was not related to the demonstration; he was a bystander. They, they chased him off the street up unto a second story arcade-- uh, uh, a beauty parlor, as I recall, where he worked and there he, he tried to fight them off with a bottle, and they jumped him in the store and in the, in the shop. The police charged in. And the next moment they were bringing the negro boy out to arrest him. And a couple of white women who were standing on the sidewalk watching this, yelled at the police, "You're arresting the wrong one!" Now this happened. It- -there, there were many illustrations which we don't have, of people, of white people who spontaneously expressed the fact that they did not approve of this permitting of the mob, and then trying to pretend that this was the result simply of a group of people peacefully coming in to demonstrate. It was very obviously the turning on of a faucet or the turning off of a faucet. WARREN: Yes, the--the mob is controlled by somebody, put it that way. LAWSON: Right, yes. Not--now, my thesis-- WARREN:--but who, who controls, who controls the mob, you see? LAWSON: Well, my thesis is that it, that it is, that it is the power structure--just using a general term-- WARREN:--yes-- LAWSON:--as representing certain political or economic of--of powers in a community. My contention is that it is the power structure that either permits or refuses to permit the mob to form. Now, let me give you another illustration of this. Here in Memphis, the chief of police, on the basis of what happened in Nashville, said very early, "We will not allow any mobs to occur in Memphis." And it's been the chief of police and everyone acknowledges this fact. I mean, the Commissioner of Police Armour, of fire and police Armour, Claude Armour made it clear very early that there would be no mob action in Memphis. And he then has briefed his police and organized his department in that way, so that in Memphis--in spite of the fact that from time to time you would, we have a far more difficult element than in Nashville. Because after all we're, we are the capital city, we sometimes say, of Mississippi or west Tennessee. In spite of that fact there has been no significant violence in the city of Memphis. WARREN: Also, do you have a less disciplined, uh, group of negroes here? I mean is there a bigger margin of-- LAWSON:--yes-- WARREN: --negroes who are not accountable to (??)-- LAWSON:--well, certainly, certainly. And also, there has been less-- the, the Memphis scene has been less of a organized nonviolent effort. I mean-- WARREN:--yes-- LAWSON:--for example, in Memphis there have been very few workshops on nonviolence for the training and disciplining of people. It's been more of, of an imitation of what they've seen going on in other places, in the city, you know, in other places in the South, rather than a leadership committed to the nonviolent approach and trying then to see to it that we have volunteers, uh, developing leaders in this struggle. In fact, I'm at this moment conducting one of the first workshops on nonviolence that the active leadership is, supported here in the city of Memphis. WARREN: Let's talk about the nonviolence a little bit. LAWSON: Um-hm. WARREN: I have a quotation here from, uh, Dr. Kenneth Clark on the matter of nonviolence I like to read to you, but you probably know it already. Let me read it to you for your response. This is from, um, Dr. Clark: "On the surface, King's philosophy appears to reflect health and stability while the black nationalists betray pathology and instability. A deeper analysis, however, might reveal that there is also an unrealistic, if not pathological, basis in King's doctrine. The natural reaction to injustice is bitterness and resentment. The form that such bitterness takes need not be overtly violent but the corrosion of the human spirit seems inevitable. It would seem therefore that any demand that the victims of oppression be required to love those who oppress them, places an additional and probably intolerable psychological burden upon them." And I know you've encountered that notion-- LAWSON:--yes-- WARREN:--there in various forms, forms (??) before? LAWSON: Now, if Dr. Clark is defining the nonviolent approach simply as passivity or as some persons to have conceived it of, of trying to ignore either one's own feelings and personal hatred and hostility and/or ignore the presence of violence and injustice, now, if he's defining nonviolence in that way, then I would quite agree with him. But if on the other hand, he's willing to accept what is Dr. King's definition of nonviolence, namely that of creative Christian love that comes from the inside of a person, that--that in a sense heals a person inwardly and enables him then to really be a free man. If he, if he defines in these terms as we define it, then, of course, I think his statement is quite false. On the contrary, he is ignoring the fact that out of this real definition of the nonviolent approach, we see all the time not only the healing up of anger and fear and guilt on the part of both negro and white people, but we see remarkable instances of courage, that's genuine courage. I mean, that is courage acting out of a person who is convinced that he must act to help change injustice. WARREN: Now, some, uh, times the response to this quotation would be, uh, Dr. Clark is referring to a natural man. LAWSON: Um-hm. WARREN: Merely and not to the natural man redeemed. LAWSON: Yes, that's a good response. Um-hm. WARREN: But now if I follow you properly, uh, you are saying something in addition to that. LAWSON: Yes. WARREN: You are saying that also Dr. Clark is neglecting some of the psychological data-- LAWSON:--right, exactly-- WARREN:--on the natural man, is that-- LAWSON:--exactly, exactly-- WARREN:--that would you base your, base your, uh, uh, advocacy of the nonviolent approach on a psychological grounding as well as a theological grounding (??), is that right? LAWSON: Exactly. Very definitely, very definitely. WARREN: That makes a big difference, of course. LAWSON: Oh, yes, right. For example, uh, uh, psychologists today when they talk about the need for a patient, a mental patient coming to the, the point of insight is--they are talking about the fact that a patient with, uh, let us say, um, um, serious hostility must not simply come to recognize that, but that this insight is the point at which then they begin, they can begin to see the roots of the hostility in a sense dry up, and to be replaced by the, the growth of the capacity to love and to understand and to accept. WARREN: Now, here's another, uh, set, uh, of speculations that go beyond that. Let's assume that--Dr. Clark also says elsewhere--and others do, too-- LAWSON:--um-hm-- WARREN:--that this may work in a Southerner negro society, it does not apply, uh, to the negro population of a large Northern city. LAWSON: Um-hm. WARREN: Does that make any sense? Now, you're raised in the North-- LAWSON:--right. WARREN: You've seen the North firsthand. And if, if that makes sense, what kind of sense does it make? How does it apply to your whole program? LAWSON: I thoroughly disagree with Dr. Clark at, at this point. Um, I, of course, came into the whole nonviolent approach in Ohio as a small boy-- WARREN:--was your father significant--I'm sorry to interrupt--was your father significant in this fact to you? LAWSON: Not, uh, not--he was partially so but not as significant from at least the primary motif as was as my mother. Father was more, more--um, has been more, um, influential from the point of view of the whole domain for justice and the whole need for, uh, social, uh, righteousness from the perspective of a Christian faith; this is where my father has had a larger impact, although, again, um, you know, this overlaps in varying ways. But the, the point I was going to make is that although I grew up in a, in a relatively small town in Ohio, um, this is where for me it became very clear that the whole meaning of Christian love had to be, had a, a genuine relevancy to the area of race. Both in terms of, of my own security and sense of, of being a person but then also from the point of view of being able to react to and change situations of hostility from the society simply because of the color of my skin. Now, it was quite clear that the only thing that Dr. Clark can say is that in the large Northern city, there is a growing disaffection on the part of the negro, and therefore a growing bitterness on his part. In part, this bitterness is fed, um, by the persons who migrated from the South over the last ten, fifteen years thinking they were going to the land of opportunity and discovering that the land of opportunity had many booby traps in it. Booby traps that they were not aware of. No, I think all this says is that therefore that the, that the problem of appealing to the masses of negro people in terms of a nonviolent approach becomes more difficult, uh, because of this greater sense of bitterness and disaffection. WARREN: You mean that bitterness is greater in the Northern city than in the, than in the South? LAWSON: Yes, because in the South--in the South, the bitterness is still reflected in another way. It's reflected in the South because of the pattern of segregation and the dualism, it is reflected more here out of a kind of passivity and apa--by, by a kind of passivity and apathy, which gets itself reflected primarily within the negro community itself. Where, where most of the contacts with white people are still on this basis of segregation and within the--within the thought pattern of segregation. And this is then brought back into the negro community itself. It does not direct itself towards the total society or towards the white person. WARREN: It means though, it means the disorganization of life in the negro society-- LAWSON:--right, exactly-- WARREN:--that means a moral disorganization. LAWSON: It, it means, this is certainly one of the features. Of course, it also means a social disorganization in the sense that it becomes exceedingly difficult for negro people to accept the possibilities that other negroes are trying to lead them in the right way. One example of this is when this fall when we had a, we had some people running for the, the school board in Memphis. We had actually some negroes who said, "I'm not going to vote for them; I don't want them interfering with the schools of Memphis." WARREN: Very strange paradoxical situation. LAWSON: Right. Exceedingly so. WARREN: What about the apathy in a place like Mississippi? Uh, the voting registration apathy? The--the largest claim made now is 6 percent, and others who are gauging it will say it's as low as three and a half of registration and a very slow movement despite the huge efforts being made. LAWSON: Right. WARREN: But the apathy, some will say, 'We're working in it--it's very great, you have--it's very hard to, to break this crust of apathy." LAWSON: Well, I think that, um, I think that, that the, in the, in the Mississippi case we have to constantly understand that the apathy is a pretension. It is an apathy that grows out of the whole enforced pattern of segregation for the negro. WARREN: Oh, clearly, yeah. LAWSON: But I've been reading recently, as an example of the, of, um, a man by the name of Charles Cardwell (??) who was a, one of the Reconstruction leaders in the state of Mississippi, and who he was finally shot and killed, rather (??) brutally, and the article has been lifting up the ways in which the, the killing went on of negro people in the state of Mississippi during this period from about nineteen--I mean 1865 or 1866 on till, till about 1885 or 1890. And the numbers are not one, two, and three in a town, but in the fifties and in the hundreds in a single town of, of killing negroes who voted by the so- called radical terms or who were supporting the Reconstruction in terms of the radical party group and all. WARREN: See, the present apathy then, the withdrawal from political life, do you think is a long range reaction from that period of violence-- LAWSON:--oh, yes, this more convinces me. Yes, that here you have the Ku Klux Klan and the Night Riders and this killing of people openly and willfully, and this is continued, and that is a pretty formidable kind of pattern to overturn immediately, and also the passivity and apathy and the bitterness that comes out of that is going to be far more complex to deal with. WARREN: The, the fear is not the main thing, as, as somebody said, fear is not the main thing-- LAWSON:--the fear-- WARREN:--something about, something--they have come from the fear originally but is now-- LAWSON:--right, exactly-- WARREN:--become a thing in itself-- LAWSON:--it is not, it is not the main thing; it is only one of the factors that's helping to produce the, the present pattern in the state of Mississippi. WARREN: Let me go back to something else. We were talking about, uh, nonviolence. Is it true, it is sometimes said that the responsibility, in a kind of a deeply ironical way, must be on the negro, to practice this? Put it this way, if you have--and I was talking to someone in New York the other day who was deeply interested in this and concerned, uh, with the problem--he says, "There's going to be this summer almost certainly violent outbreaks--spontaneous, unorganized, and greatly out of control, except by gunpoint." LAWSON: Um-hm. WARREN: "There's a very likely, likelihood of, of this sort of violence." He said, "Then, the white man can only do one thing when the faces the, the negro mob, take it." Not defending, he's probably not to defend himself. He must act, you see, accept, uh, this in, in nonviolent terms. But then the question arises, how can he? He's not disciplined for this. He has no--there's no, uh--he's in a, in a passionate position which makes him possibly nonviolent. The individual. Do you see what I mean? The man in the street, he isn't the law. He isn't having, hasn't been at no seminar of nonviolence; he's had no philosophy to accommodate this. How can he do this? So the responsibility is there. The moral responsibility in a strange kind of way may go back to a negro to set this model. Does that make any sense? Is that a good argument? LAWSON: Yes, I think I understand what you're saying. And I would tend to agree, uh, that the, that in spite what has gone on in our history that, that the negro does have a responsibility for trying to help his nation come to a, to a noble expression of its ideals. WARREN: That's stating the matter more generally, yes. LAWSON: Yes, and I think that the only way this can be done is by cleaving--by cleaving, cleaving to those very ideals. In other words, we, we talk about the Judaic-Christian tradition that has certainly sustained many of our principles, and have been written even into our, in our form of law. Well, my thesis is that we must be nonviolent primarily because this is the only way that is consonant with this whole, uh, idealistic tradition. Uh, the way of love and peace and truth, uh, is the only way to achieve these things in society. So at least from that point, with that kind of an addition, uh, I think it's the negro--I do believe that it is the negro's responsibility to be nonviolent. And, of course, another thing to be said is, there's a number of other authors, uh, rather, a number of authors have pointed out, the theology of, which has helped to shape the negro's mind in so many different ways, from his early appropriation of the Christian faith in the United States has been a, a theology very consistent with the nonviolent approach. The negro spiritual, as an example, uh, where you will, will never find a word of hatred expressed for anyone. Where you in turn find a, a great sympathy with the suffering of Jesus, and the sense that somehow the suffering of the negro, which is an innocent suffering, is clearly identifiable with, with Jesus. Well, I mean, I think this whole motive is very significant in terms of the way in which Martin Luther King Jr. has found a ripe audience. WARREN: Now, this ripe audience though--this is a question not a statement--must have this, uh, concept of Christian suffering as being redemptive-- LAWSON:--yes-- WARREN:--uh, transfer it to a Christian suffering, which is not passive though redemptive, but, uh, redemptive through, uh, action. LAWSON: Yes, redemptive through getting engaged with the cause of the suffering, the evil system. WARREN: That makes--that's the real difference? LAWSON: Yes. Oh, yes, very differently. Right. WARREN: How much, uh, has the influence, uh, of Hindu philosophy been on you, Mr. Lawson? Can you talk about that a little bit? LAWSON: Well-- WARREN:--have you experienced that? LAWSON: On me, personally, it's had very little influence. Um, the way in which I have been, um, influenced at all from India would be, of course, in the study of Gandhi and, and in the way in which he tried to develop, of course, the whole satyagraha movement in India and in South Africa. Now, even much of this, however, has come through, uh, the eyes of people, um, like E. Stanley Jones, the Methodist missionary, who lived for so many years in India and who was an intimate friend of Gandhi. Who wrote one of the best books in fact on Gandhi. I mean, in other words, even my understanding of Gandhi very often has come from, um, you know, secondhand. WARREN: Yes. LAWSON: Now, from my own personal, um, study of Gandhi and reading his own books and writings, I'm quite convinced that Gandhi cannot be understood in primarily Hindu terms. He's got to be understood, um, in, in terms of the, um, nineteenth-century education he received as a person. The influence of--which he himself admitted a great influence very early in South Africa--of the New Testament, particularly he said the "Sermon of the Mount." The influence of some of the men to have, of some of the people who flocked to Gandhi very early in his life. Men like C.F. Andrews, who was an Anglican, um, missionary to India. Who's known in India today even as C.F.A.--Christ's Faithful Apostle. Was, Andrews was the man who took radically the harsh demands of the New Testament, turned the other cheek, uh, love ye the enemy. E. Stanley Jones also takes these demands rather hard, rather radically. And--and these, both of these men had something like a forty-year personal relationship with Gandhi. So I, I see this influence as a much larger influence in my own personal thinking. Of course, then, the other thing, I was weaned on the Bible and New Testament, in particular. And, uh, it's from the New Testament perspective, uh, that I first began to accept the teachings of my parents in this whole area. WARREN: How much do you think is communicable of this, of nonviolence in this perspective, uh, to the masses, black or white, negro or non-negro? LAWSON: Um, I think, um, a tremendous amount of it. Now, I've held workshops in almost every state in the South. Workshops in nonviolence, to all kinds of groups. From, uh, sophisticated, um, integrated groups, college groups, university groups, to, uh, very unsophisticated people in the Delta of Mississippi. Um, all-negro groups. And, I don't vary in terms of the ideas, I vary in terms of terminology. When I found, for example, some of the most exciting experiences I've had in, in teaching and in training have been in the Delta of Mississippi where I primarily spoke in biblical terms, and used biblical illustrations, and biblical stories, and myths to, uh, illustrate and document the whole idea of Christian nonviolence, and found people who were functionally illiterate exceedingly responsive and aware of this fact. I've had people say to me, uh, 'Reverend Lawson, I have always felt, uh, that the only way to change this situation or to change what we have to put up with is through Christian love and through what Christ talked about.' Some statements like this-- WARREN:--yes-- LAWSON:--have been very frequent. WARREN: There are some reports--how (??), I don't know, but one of them comes to me from an eyewitness--that when the riots started in Birmingham, you see, after the bombing, that there was a fundamental shock, uh, to the nonviolent leadership there. This was something it seemed to be outside of, uh, prediction. They felt a shock too, that something here was working which was outside of that whole concept of the situation. Do you know anything about this? Where you there, by the way, at that time? LAWSON: No, not when the--I went in-- WARREN:--when the bombing occurred? LAWSON: No, I was not there at the time of the bombing. Now, I-- WARREN:--attributed to--now, if you will excuse me, Mr. Lawson--one, one thing that's attributed-- now, I can't remember where. I have a note of it and I know I, a, a documentation. It's attributed anyway to, uh, I think, um, Mr. Walker-- LAWSON:--Wyatt Tee Walker (??)-- WARREN:--I'm not certain. I think it must be him. That he said, "But these aren't our people." LAWSON: Um-hm. WARREN: That these, this--that the mob started it," he said. That the negro mob that had been (??) by the explosion of violence, the undirected, spontaneous explosion of violence. LAWSON: Well, now, this did not--this certainly did not surprise me, um, that this had happened. And I'm not sure about other leaders. I've not heard any of them mention this, and, um, I was-- WARREN:--see, that's why I'm-- LAWSON:--I was with most of them-- WARREN:--yes-- LAWSON:--I was with most of them just this past weekend, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Um, and I've not heard any of them express shock or surprise. Now, one of the places where I wonder about this would be the fact that I know Jim Bevell (??) stayed in Birmingham through all of this period. Now, many of the rest of us were going in and out because of churches and whatnot. But Jim, once Jim got there on the staff, he stayed there literally throughout-- WARREN:--is he there now? LAWSON: Um, he was there, he was--he left this meeting we were in Saturday to go back to Birmingham, and he's using it as a kind of a base for working throughout the state. Um, now, Jim knows from our experience in Nashville that we were able to know when in the sense the natives were restless in terms of violence. WARREN: Um-hm. LAWSON: Because we got the reports from varying kinds of people, from labor people, from taxicab people, and then just some people, from ordinary people in the streets in the sections of the city where violence could've, could occur, where people would come for violence. Um, so that we could, we could predict, we could predict, uh, the possibilities of violence. Um, so, I would have the, I would have the very real feeling that Jim Bevell (??) would've been alert to this. Now, he may have been, there may have been some surprise at the extent to which the negroes were disillusioned, but certainly all of us knew in going into Birmingham that the negro there had been taking dynamiting, um, um, spontaneous violence from policemen, intimidation of many, many kinds from people in that area. They'd been taking this for any number of years. And I think that all of us would've said, 'Well, we know that Birmingham is a city of violence, and we know full well that, that a nonviolent campaign in Birmingham is not going to be like anything else.' WARREN: I don't know of how to, uh, interpret this. LAWSON: Yes. WARREN: I've had some long conversations with Mr. Evers, Charles Evers. LAWSON: Yes. WARREN: In one, one of our own recorded sessions--uh, in fact, the only real long recording--he said that, talking about nonviolence and, um, (??) solves nothing, just lying(??), you see. He was saying, "Birmingham is a disaster. We have closed the line, lost the lines of communication," to use his phrase, "for years to come." LAWSON: Who said this? WARREN: Mr. Evers. LAWSON: In, in Jackson? WARREN: Um-hm. LAWSON: Oh, he just doesn't know what he's talking about. WARREN: Well, I don't know (??). I (??) try to start a debate between you, but I was, I was puzzled by it, and I played this back to myself-- LAWSON:--yes-- WARREN:--you see, when I got home. And, um, he attached (??) Birmingham to a, he said, "a disaster." [Pause in recording.] WARREN: His exact words. LAWSON: I do not understand-- WARREN:--I don't follow. I was, I want to follow this-- LAWSON:--yes, right-- WARREN:--I want to explore this a little bit if you can-- LAWSON:--right-- WARREN:--it's not a matter of, of setting you and, and Mr. Evers at loggerheads; that's not the point-- LAWSON:--yes, I understand. WARREN: It's a question of interpretation of the event, you see. LAWSON: Of course, now it should be said that Charles Evers is not a proponent of the nonviolent approach. WARREN: He told me, he says that he is. LAWSON: Well, but I would like to say a couple of things about him. WARREN: Yes, please. LAWSON: Number one, that he is brand-new in the movement and in the field in Jackson, Mississippi. WARREN: Yes. LAWSON: Number two, he has weapons in his own house. WARREN: I don't much blame him. (laughs) LAWSON: For, for protection. Well, I'm not, I'm not, you know, I'm not putting the blame, I'm just saying. (Warren laughs) But, but most of us who are involved in this business do not, including one man, or at least two men, rather, that I know of in, in Mississippi--or more than that--but I'm just saying two key men, and one of them is in Jackson, um, whose lives are definitely marked lives, and they know it and we know it. WARREN: Is Moses one of those? LAWSON: Moses is certainly one of them. WARREN: I was, I was (??). LAWSON: Sure, Moses is one of them. Ed King in Jackson, Mississippi, is another man, and certainly his life is a marked life. He carries, he carries no weapon around or has none in his home. Now, the point I'm making is that, um, that those of us who are proponents of a nonviolent approach, if we had guns, we'd got rid of them. WARREN: You, you're making a--a thorough policy then-- LAWSON:--yes-- WARREN:--that has no, admits no exceptions-- LAWSON:--yes, certainly. And we know too many people, you see, in the movement today who've given up their weapons, even--even those who had a hunting gun, you know, and went occasionally to find a rabbit, have gotten rid of the hunting gun. So then the third thing I would say, I'm not certain how often, how much Charles Evers has been into Birmingham. I've not seen him there myself. I'm certain he may have gone in the last, this past fall, perhaps, or the winter for a speech or something. But now, let's say this: we were just talking this past weekend, that in one real way there is more genuine communication in Birmingham today than there was a year ago. WARREN: Now, uh, explain that, will you please, sir? LAWSON: Well, I'm, I'm thinking, for example, of one doctor who because of the Birmingham campaign, has him, has decided to, to give leadership in the white community for helping Birmingham to break through some of the problems of segregation in Birmingham. WARREN: This is a white doctor? LAWSON: And this is a white doctor I'm talking about. I'm thinking of a dean of a school in Birmingham who has taken the initiative himself to try to bring groups of negroes and whites together for the purpose of having frank conversations. WARREN: That's Birmingham Southern? LAWSON: Birmingham Southern. I'm thinking, for example, of the president of Millsaps Co--of not Millsaps College, but of, of Miles College in Birmingham. Now, isn't, is that the dean of the university; that paper (??) shouldn't be public. WARREN: All right. You can check even if you (??) LAWSON: Yeah. The president of Miles College who in the last year and a half has gotten more and more involved in frank confrontations with white persons in the city of Birmingham. [Pause in recording.] WARREN: This is the end of tape 2 with Mr. Lawson. Continue on tape 3. [Tape 2 ends; tape 3 begins.] WARREN: This is tape 3 with, uh, Mr. Lawson, continue. [Pause in recording.] WARREN: When I heard Dr. King in Bridgeport last week, he put great emphasis on the philosophy of personal responsibility of the negro to do whatever his job was well, you see. He, he said, "Street sweeper, be the street sweeper and then you'll abide by the angels," this his line. LAWSON: Right. WARREN: This, uh, as far as I know, is relatively new, uh, in his treatment of these matters, isn't it? LAWSON: No, actually it's not. WARREN: Well, I like to--it's not new then. LAWSON: No. WARREN: It's been part of the whole, all of the way through? LAWSON: Yes, right. WARREN: On previous occasions it hadn't appeared, the previous occasion I heard him speak. LAWSON: Yes. Well now, he, of course, had genuinely emphasized this line in his college speaking. WARREN: I see, I hadn't heard that before. LAWSON: Yes, right. Because in, in going to colleges and universities, this has been the line that he's taken, of the need for the negro to press forward, to see to it that he was qualified, to have the motive to do the best job possible, to seize the opportunities of the new day that was approaching. WARREN: And to seek competition-- LAWSON:--right-- WARREN:--rather than avoid competition. LAWSON: Right. WARREN: Now, the reason I am asking, uh, this particular question is this, the old split between the Niagara Movement and the NAACP in its early days and, uh, the whole tradition of Tuskegee-- LAWSON:--right-- WARREN:--where it's the question of the self improvement and to do job well as opposed to, uh, an aggressive action, uh, toward civil rights and surrounding, uh, matters. LAWSON: Right. WARREN: Now, there's still, as far as I can make out, some real resistance to even mentioning, say, 'Do the job well.' I should say, to certain negroes--as a white man saying it, this is taken as an insult-- LAWSON:--right-- WARREN:--for asking the question, you see, as a question. LAWSON: Sure. WARREN: Of course, if it's being said by a, a Dr. King, that's a little different. It's, it's bound to feel, to feel different. But still, from some negroes it's still taking by other negroes as an affront. As far as I can make out, this is reported to be as such. This split between says, on one hand, uh, the activism, and the civil rights approach, and the question of, uh, a personal career, personal achievement, uh, that split, how real is that as a, in, in, terms of feeling, or, or resentments, or, or philosophy? LAWSON: Now, I resent this coming from those negroes who are motivated primarily to see this as an alternative to the need for action. Now, and this may be where the antagonism occurs. I know there are a lot of us, as an example, who resent certain educators who are always emphasizing this, but they emphasize it as being the way that contradicts the emerging nonviolent approach, whereas we in the nonviolent approach are not trying to--there, therefore fill out the need for our being able to participate and compete in a total economy. But what we are saying, what we're saying is, that, uh, instead that no matter how well qualified we are, we've got to change the attitude in the structures of our society in order to permit this moving in competition, uh, into an open society. WARREN: Now, as you accept, there's, there's no such thing as a mystique or a magic of civil rights, or anything else. LAWSON: Right. WARREN: That the responsibility increases and doesn't decrease. LAWSON: Exactly. And, and therefore, for example, we know from both practical experience and from my overall concern that, that there are far too many opportunities now that are available, that the educational patterns, uh, have not prepared negro young people. That we have, we have this, we'd have this time after time again in certain situations here in Memphis. Now, still these principles--and just recently they did this--throw back at us. Well, we got to encourage a student to, to make the best. Well, they're not making the best of--of themselves now. And the school is not helping, too. I get students all the time for counseling who're telling me they'd been advised in the school system to move down one channel because the doors are closed to them in the channel in which they're interested in. Well, you see, that kind of thinking has got to be eliminated. WARREN: Have you read the controversy between, between Irving, Irving Howe and Ralph Ellison? It involves something of this, Irving Howe in Dissent last fall and two long articles by Ralph Ellison in the New Leader, the last one being, in February the fourth? LAWSON: No, I haven't seen those. WARREN: It's on the same general point. LAWSON: Right. WARREN: Ralph takes, uh, is being attacked or whatever because he's not, not on the picket lines. He's writing novels. As a traitor therefore, and not like Richard Wright, not like, you see, others. And this revolves around the question of the, of the personal role, the personal vocation. And it's a very eloquent piece by Ralph. LAWSON: Oh, yes. WARREN: All pieces, they're very wonderful pieces of, of--he finally says--this is an aside--that, uh, Irving Howe is like Bilbo; he's trying to put him in his place but, he, Irving Howe, has already assigned him to a place. (both laugh) Trying (??). LAWSON: Yes. [Pause in recording.] WARREN: Do you think, uh, that enough thought has been given to the actual vision of what society would be, uh, given the pass of the Civil Rights Bill and, or given, uh, the mechanics tidied up? What vision do you have of that sort of society if you've accomplished the mechanisms, you see, of civil rights, and a few things like that? The obvious legal, uh, matters, what remains to be done? What kind of vision beyond that is there to be dealt with? LAWSON: Well, in the first instance, we have not given enough time to defining what it is we want, and then to spell this definition out in terms of the actual kinds of programs which are possible to achieve it. Uh, I, I think that most of us, and in particular in the emerging nonviolent movement, recognize this failure. Uh, it's not a failure of lack of interest, rather as much as it, um, is, rather a failure in the, uh, in time. Too involved at this moment in--in the growth of the movement to really get involved in the kind, some of the study that is necessary, uh, to working out this vision. Now, even if though we get the machinery that is necessary, most of us have another stage in terms of the nonviolent approach, and that's what, the stage that we call the follow-up that will necessa--it will be necessary then for many groups and for many of us even in the, here in the movement, in the nonviolent movement itself to program follow-up. To make certain then that the machinery gets into high gear and, and then that some of the problems that will come as that machinery gets to operate, makes means (??) that some of these problems are gonna be met openly. Now, we've, we are already talking about what can be done to make certain once the Civil Rights Bill has been passed that, that it's going to be carried out. In fact, this weekend there was a fair amount of conversation on follow-up campaigns to the Civil Rights Bill. WARREN: That's implementation. LAWSON: Implementation, yes. WARREN: I'm thinking beyond implementation. I'm assuming that we, it can be enforced, you know, and by all legal. What about your attitude, uh, toward, "the white liberal"? This is involved somehow in that long range question, as a white man of more or less goodwill, you know. LAWSON: Right. Well, it's--I, I would think it's all according to what happens to the liberal over the next decade. Uh, we've gotten into many situations in which some of us feel, at least, that the white liberal, um, simply has not kept up with the times and with the moral imperatives of the times. WARREN: In what sense now? Just, well, a quick-- LAWSON:--for a good example of this is the chancellor at, at Vanderbilt University has long been known as a, a fine moderate. And not only that, but he, he certainly has done a, a major job-- WARREN:--Branscom (??) LAWSON: Branscom (??), at the appointment of Vanderbilt University in terms of seeing to it that it would become a, a topnotch university and--and working in this direction, he was known as a liberal, a moderate. But he, uh, was a liberal in a sense on his own term-- WARREN:--yes. LAWSON: He, he--and the--the coming in of the nonviolent movement, in spite of the warning from Montgomery and Martin Luther King back in 1955, you see, left him way, way behind. WARREN: Now, what about something else. Not to say failures like that of a white man who happens to be, uh, say a retarded (??) liberal but the notion that it shouldn't be a white man's job at all to mix into these things. The, the repudiation of the liberal which is, is very widespread, you know. It can be everything from the attacks on Jack Greenberg to the attack; we want no white man who mix into this. LAWSON: Well, this is why it's headed-- WARREN:--there's plenty of documentation on this, of course. LAWSON: Now, this is widespread primarily among, uh, Northern negro, um--uh, let's say, radical elements. I'm using the term radical in the sense of being, um, further away from saying the NAACP position or the nonviolent movement. Those of us in the nonviolent movement recognize that in order to achieve the kind of society we want, we must have allies. The negro is only 10 percent of America. We have got to have people from labor; we've got to have people from the political structures of America; we've got to have people from all, uh, categories of life, from the churches who are going to want to have an America that means a, uh, a larger, uh, pure kind of democratic society. This cannot be done by the negro. We all have to do it together. And so those of us in the nonviolent movement repudiate any effort to say that the white liberal and the white man has no role to play. On the contrary, many of us, uh, work assiduously, uh, in order to help white people assume their rightful roles and assume the kind of role they can play better than anybody else can play, it in many instances. WARREN: There's another question leading to this matter of future. We know the old, um, problem--mentioned, as far as I know, first by DuBois and many times since--of the split in the negro psyche. On one hand, uh, the, the pull toward a, uh, negro tradition, a negro culture, a--a negro world, a--a black mystique, all of this; on the other hand, the pull toward a complete integration with the Western European, uh, cultural, uh, history and the Judaic, uh, Christian, uh, philosophy and, and religion. Now, to some people this of course is not a problem; for some people it is a problem. How do you react, react to that, uh, question? Do you feel it's a real question, a real option, a real, uh, split? LAWSON: Well, I think it's a real question and very clearly, uh, well documented from the whole, um, from the effort of sociology over the last fifty, seventy-five years in the United States. Now, the point is though whether or not it is an issue that, that gains emphasis primarily because of, of our American society at-large being a rejecting society and a hostile society towards the negro. WARREN: You mean you have to be formally--if, uh, segregation were formally abolished and, uh, civil rights, uh, literally enforced, this issue would cease to be an issue in the sense it's now an issue, is that it? LAWSON: It would cease to be an issue as it now is. It would still be an issue in the sense that you, you will still be, there will still be a need to continue to work on it. But what I mean is that once the invitation is extended to the negro that you are an American, be an American, then you'll find as was always happening, you see, That, uh, that this is much less of a problem for the negro. In one respect, in fact, you could say that there's been no dualism in the negro at certain points. For example, in terms of loyalty to the United States there's been no dualism. In terms of the idea, the idea that we have maintained ourselves that we are Americans and know nothing else about America, there's been no dualism. And this is one reason why your black nationalist groups have never had any, you know, large sway or meaning in the United States simply because the, the negro in America has felt himself to be an American and has had a basic loyalty to our country. But, but the dual, the second culture or the, or the subculture that he has developed, uh, has been primarily because the major culture has constantly sought to reject him or keep him away from it. WARREN: I've heard one white man say this. Uh, a man who's sincere and honest and a decent man. He said, "I feel now, after certain reading and certain contacts, that I am ejected in my efforts to, uh, be honest." Rejected by large segments of, uh, even negroes he does not know, you see, and throw him back about this. "I," he said, "I'm quite, I'm not, I'm not going to try to please anymore. I want to try to be on my conscience." LAWSON: Um-hm. WARREN: Of course, how can you please ten different people? LAWSON: Yes, right. Well, of course, you-- WARREN:--you see, what, what he, what he's speaking for a segment of--a white segment he's speaking for. LAWSON: Um-hm, um-hm. I have noticed among some of my own friends in, in traveling, um, a growing frustration among, um, white people at this point. Now, I think that, that, um, a part of this is, of course, because the negro is increasingly losing his pretension about himself and about the problem he faces. WARREN: What kind of pretension? LAWSON: Well, for, for far too long--the best example of this would be, the meeting I just came from was a meeting on school dropouts. And it's gone on since 9:30 this morning. There is at least one negro sociologist in the group of the major panel, and, yet, all morning long we've talked about the school dropout program without the whole question of the relationship of this to segregation and/or the relationship of this to the, the negro in this whole problem. This hasn't, this was not mentioned this morning at all. Now, some of us in Memphis recognize that we've had a lot of interracial contacts going on in Memphis but without the negro speaking the truth in love, about the--the serious way that he feels personally and also in the way he feels about a need for a changing city. Now, it's, at this point increasingly negroes, however, are losing this pretension. And, and he's beginning to more and more present it, so that you can say that, that for the first time there are larger numbers of white liberals who are hearing the real thoughts of negroes. Um, now, I happen to think this is wonderful-- WARREN:--that's part of it clearly; that's clearly part of it, yes. LAWSON: I, I think this is wonderful in the sense that--that there's a need for us to be honest, um, before we are going to, come to the place of genuine understanding, so that I think that the, that this frustration in part comes out of the changing form of communication that is going on. A, a changing form which, of course, I relish and glory in because I think it's necessary. So that, uh, I--now, and then the other thing that needs to be said is that the white liberal has in the past been able to give the mainline leadership for the, for the civil rights movement. I mean, the whole pattern of the, of legal using the ordinary procedures of our society comes, of course, from the--in a sense--the middle-class idea that we got a problem, you go the channels that where the problem can be solved. Now, we're being confronted with a thesis that says that these channels cannot really be challenged from within; they have to be challenged from without. In other words, this, in other words-- WARREN:--a, a non-legal, an extra-legalistic approach. LAWSON: Yes, right. The nonviolence approach which says--just for an example--the issue is not a legal issue; it's a moral issue-- WARREN:--yes, I see, yes. LAWSON: Therefore, it has to be faced on moral ground. Well, this means then that the discussions of the--you know, prior to ten years ago, are taking on a, a another dimension which we've not been used to having in our discussions. And this undoubtedly is, is causing frustration. Now, may I point this out, though-- WARREN:--please. LAWSON: That, that is not simply causing frustration among white liberals; it's causing tremendous frustrations among negro liberal, liberals or negro civil right leaders. In other words, that this, that this crisis that we find ourselves in is a crisis of leadership, a crisis of the, of the past way in which we have conducted our, this whole problem. It is a, it is a judgment of the ways in which negro leaders and white leaders have acted together. WARREN: Is it also a judgment on the fact of a lack of, uh, uh, political, uh, leadership for negroes, a contempt of political leadership itself-- LAWSON:--uh-- WARREN:--some backlash from that? LAWSON: This is true, in the sense that--as, as an example, Chicago political leadership for the negro was selected by the white political machinery. WARREN: Nonfunc--was nonfunctional? LAWSON: Yes, it was not leadership that grew out of the vote, let us say, out of the will of the negro people. I think you see this crisis very clearly in the Chicago scene. WARREN: Yes, yes. LAWSON: It's, it's all over the place, in fact, right now, where the political leadership of the negro is that belonging to the machinery. [Pause in recording.] WARREN: Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. This is the end of tape. This is the end of this tape. This is the end of this tape. This is the end of this tape. This is the end of the in, interview with Reverend J. M. Lawson. Stop. Stop. Stop. No more on this tape. This is the end, end, end, end. He had no more on this tape. [Tape 3 ends.] [End of interview.] James M. Lawson (1928- ) was a longtime peace activist and served as a tutor on non-violence to civil rights leaders. Lawson began his work in Nashville, Tennessee where he trained citizens on non-violent tactics to use in sit-ins at downtown Nashville lunch counters. Lawson was one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he was an organizer of the Freedom Rides in 1961, and was chair of the Strategy Committee for the Memphis Sanitation Strike during which Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Lawson later protested the Cold War and the war in Vietnam. In this interview James M. Lawson describes his involvement with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and his organization of the sit-ins in Nashville. He discusses how his involvement with the sit-ins resulted in his expulsion from the Vanderbilt University Divinity School and the support he received from the Vanderbilt University faculty. Lawson describes the influence of the police on mob violence during civil rights demonstrations and how civil rights workers protect themselves against the threat of violence. Lawson discusses how his belief in nonviolence has been influenced by Gandhi's teachings and describes a connection between non-violence and Christianity. Civil Rights