I have been wading through the three volumes of Taylor Branch’s history, America in the King Years, and reliving the dozen years between Montgomery and Memphis. The Montgomery bus boycott catapulted Martin Luther King, Jr., into the national headlines; Memphis was where he was assassinated. Throughout that tumultuous time, the Reverend James Lawson stood just offstage, a key partner in the nonviolent campaign for full citizenship for African Americans.
While King spearheaded the campaign to desegregate the buses in Montgomery, Lawson trained students in Nashville in the ways of nonviolence. He led small workshops tucked away in church basements. He taught his students not to react to taunts and threats. He gave them tools to remain calm and centered while undergoing arrest or physical attacks. Lawson believed that only by enduring the blows of hatred could haters see their own humanity. He brought Gandhi’s understanding of nonviolence to this country and he trained thousands of civil rights workers during those years.