Interview with Reverend Will Campbell
QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

I'LL ASK A QUESTION. TALKING ABOUT VANDERBILT AND BRING IN JIM LAWSON AND HIM BEING EXPELLED AND THE ROLE VANDERBILT WAS PLAYING AS A, AS A PART OF THAT EFFECT ON...

Rev. Will D. Campbell:

Yeah, OK. James Lawson was a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School, was, I believe, the first black student. He was more active perhaps in the training and preparing the young people in Nashville for the sit-in movement because he had been in prison himself during the Korean War. He was a C.O. resister, had refused to register for the draft and had been sent to federal prison because of that. Vanderbilt took the position when the sit-ins began—and he was charged by the city with criminal anarchy—that they were not expelling him because of his involvement in the freedom movement, or the sit-in movement, but because he wa—had violated a state statute. Now keep in mind that he had not been convicted of this when he was expelled. He was simply charged with this, arrested and thrown in prison, but he was expelled. The black church was virtually unanimously for him. The white churches, those who even would bother to discuss it among themselves, were almost unanimously against it. Now that is not to say that there were not individuals within the white church both at Vanderbilt University and in the structured church, the steeples as I call them, there were individuals, but you always have to distinguish between individuals and institutions. Vanderbilt, as an institution, was in my judgment totally irresponsible, almost criminal in their actions toward James Lawson. Individuals within that faculty and within the Vanderbilt community at large, many individuals, were outspoken in be—on behalf of James Lawson, were very much in sympathy with him. But institutions are so powerful and so, in my judgment, so evil, that it made no difference, you know, these faculty people could say—and the medical student faculty, almost all of them, threatened to resign. The divinity faculty did on one occasion, almost all of them resigned. But the institution goes pell-mell on its way and says what…you know, this guy is a threat to the institution. And if something becomes a threat to the institution, then that institution is just going to push it out of its way, which is precisely what happened. He was expelled and the institution survived and went on.