Interview with Rev. James Lawson



This will be take 11.

Rev. James Lawson:

I am faced with a hostile assailant who wants to break up the march and who wants to do me in. What do I do? Well, my practice has been to obey Jesus at that point, turn the other cheek. Well, people say, "Well, that's passive," but it's not passive. Psychologically, it is an extreme weapon. I turn the other cheek. Now, it's true the assailant may then sock me on that cheek as well. But it may also happen that the assailant does something else, that he is upset that instead of my using the fist against him I turn the other cheek. I have actually seen this happen in the midst of our desegregation of--in the Nashville movement, the desegregation of theaters, I was at the back of the march because at the back of the march the rabble-rousers would gather and throw Coke bottles at us, spit on us, and hit and kick as we would be moving away from the theaters back to the church. So I accosted a young man who was doing this. I was at the very last rank, and I would try to turn around and I, face him as often as I could. He was cussing me out. I turned once and I said to him, "Did your church teach you to talk like this?" He said, "They taught us segregation, though." But I said, "Did they teach you to hit and spit and kick and cuss other human beings?" And he acted as though I was hitting him over the head with my fist. He stopped. I turned around to find where I was to keep moving in the right direction. I turned back around and he had disappeared through the crowd, and I never saw him again in theater demonstrations. So nonviolence does what Richard Gregg said, wrote rather. It causes people to be engaged in moral jiu-jitsu. They expect from you the hostile response that is conventional. They don't get that; they get respect and they get resistance, and that turns them upside down. It is like the art of jiu-jitsu, where you use the opponent's strength against himself. He rushes at you, and instead of you putting up your resistance to stop him, you let him rush and you stick your foot out in front of him as he rushes by, so the nonviolence has that same practical capacity.