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King friend and colleague remembers trailblazer

King friend and colleague remembers trailblazer


January 22, 2003
Sentinel staff writer

SANTA CRUZ - The Rev. James Lawson, a friend and associate of Martin Luther King Jr., beseeched a crowd of 1,200 people to honor King not only as a great man, but as part of a wider social justice movement
“You can’t separate my good friend and colleague from the movement of justice and equality,” said Lawson, considered one of the principle architects of the U.S. civil rights movement. “The movement chose him.”
In a fiery speech, Lawson also took aim at a potential U.S. war with Iraq while reminding the crowd that King targeted military might and violence of all kinds.
Lawson was keynote speaker of the 19th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Convocation, presented by UC Santa Cruz in cooperation with community groups, including the Resource Center For Nonviolence and the NAACP Santa Cruz Chapter.
The event honors America’s most influential civil rights leader, who was assassinated 35 years ago. King once said nonviolence “seeks not to humiliate and not to defeat the oppressor but it seeks to win his friendship and his understanding” in a method of reconciliation.
In recalling the fight to end segregation, Lawson recalled how Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a pubic bus, an act of resistance that helped set off a massive bus-system boycott for over a year.
He said movements owe strength not just to their wise, charismatic advocates but to “ordinary people. Across history, top-down stuff has never meant much to ordinary people It must be the people themselves who wrestle with the issues, give them strength and power.”
Even a tyrant can’t rule without popular consent, he said, and a well-organized movement can withdraw that consent. He said the civil rights movement made hard-won gains “not by virtue of a massive defense industry, or General Motors. We are where we are because of the struggles of ordinary people. No war brought us freedom. Soldiers who bomb Iraq do not defend my freedom. They threaten my freedom.”
Lawson said he’s shocked to see people debate “whether to vanquish a people who have not attacked us and have no technological (capabilities) to threaten us, are relatively poor and have lived under colonialism longer than any other kind of contemporary history. It sullies and corrodes the character of America.”
Lawson studied Gandhi’s non-violence techniques in India before working alongside King. He was imprisoned for refusing to fight in the Korean War.
The crowd clapped and sang along with the Martin Luther King Gospel Youth Choir, formed especially for the convocation. UCSC Chancellor MRC Greenwood, UCSC American Studies professor Tricia Rose, the Rev. Alex Robinson of Church of the Living God and Vice Mayor Scott Kennedy also spoke of King’s legacy.
Contact Dan White at dwhite (at)

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