Lawson art 2

James Lawson

Vanderbilt University is launching a new institute, to be named for Nashville civil rights movement veteran the Rev. James Lawson.

The James Lawson Institute for the Research and Study of Nonviolent Movements will launch in the fall and host public workshops, seminars and training opportunities for “the next generation of community organizers equipped with the skills to make meaningful, sustainable change,” according to a release.

Lawson transferred to Vanderbilt Divinity School in 1958 after a meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who urged him to move to the South. Lawson and other students at Vanderbilt, Fisk University, Tennessee State University and other local colleges formed the Nashville Student Movement, an organized effort that included sit-ins in downtown restaurants and resulted in the integration of Nashville businesses.

Vanderbilt expelled Lawson in 1960, though he later reconciled with the school and returned as a distinguished university professor. Lawson previously donated his papers to the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives.

He will be the institute’s primary adviser.

“The James Lawson Institute will foster research in the area of nonviolent movements’ history and contemporary practices, and collaborate with program initiatives across the university, city of Nashville, state of Tennessee and the nation to offer opportunities for dialogue, intergenerational forums and training in nonviolence,” Phillis Isabella Sheppard, institute faculty director and Vanderbilt religion, psychology and culture professor, said in the release.

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