Interview with Rev. James Lawson


Rev. James Lawson:

The influence of the Nashville Movement was great, perhaps more so than any other single movement, with the exception of the Montgomery boycott. The reason for that was that we, as King said, we were a model movement. And we combined strategizing with learning and experimentation and struggle. We did not stop with the sit-in of 1960, we moved to theaters, we moved to bus station, train station, barber shop, we moved to mop up other restaurants in the community so for, a decade at least after 1960, that movement was continuing to be a very dynamic movement setting the pace all across the South for change. Then, in 1961, we determined that the violence in Alabama could not stop the Freedom Ride. So we immediately called Martin King and others and said we're going to continue the ride from Anniston, Alabama to Birmingham and to Montgomery. The ride cannot stop and our people immediately went, so a goodly number of us were arrested in fact John Lewis was on that, not John Lewis, but, but a number of our students got beat up and what not in Montgomery [sic] in what we call the Mother's Day massacre. I led the first group of bus riders from Montgomery to Jackson, Mississippi where of course we then had several hundred people get arrested, so we were influential in that sense. All sorts of people who then were involved in that continuing struggle. Then, thirdly, because we had combined helping people to be students and to read and to think, and to have a whole picture of a nonviolent approach and methodology, we therefore had produced the best-trained people, so people like C. T. Vivian, Diane Nash, John Lewis, Bernard Lafayette, Marion Barry, Lester McKinney, were people who fanned out all across the South became SNCC field workers, became SCLC field people and, and that meant they carried on that same style. I myself of course by ‘60 had become director of nonviolent education for SCLC and was traveling all across doing these workshops in many, many of the movements, did the first workshop in Fannie Lou Hamer's home in Ruleville, Mississippi, as one illustration. So that's the reason.