My Brother’s Keeper: Rev. Phillip Lawson Reflects on Civil Rights Movement

Rev. Phil Lawson. Photo by Joe L. Fisher, Black American Political Action Committee.

By Kia Croom

It’s Black History Month, a time to celebrate the achievements of African-Americans and remember their struggles.

Rev. Phil Lawson, a lifetime social justice advocate and Pastor Emeritus of Easter Hill United Methodist Church, reflected on his involvement in the Civil Rights era.

Rev. Lawson recently retired from the East Bay Housing Organization and travels the country championing immigration and economic justice for low-wage workers. His brother Rev. James Lawson travels the country promoting non-violence and lives in Los Angeles.

Rev. Phil Lawson traveled to the March on Selma/Montgomery to protest the savage beating and brutal murder thattook place on March 7, 1965—infamously known as “Bloody Sunday.”

“Dr. King issued a call to action asking people to come to Selma. It was one of the greatest experiences of the beloved community I’ve ever known,” Lawson said.
“The night before the march, there was a massive rally in which Nina Simone and Harry Belafonte performed. My group and I had to leave before the march, but we were blown away by the love, hospitality and sense of community shared among our brothers and sisters that one day,” he said Lawson also talked about the experiences in the Civil Rights Movement of his brother Rev. James Lawson who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“My brother spent time in India studying non-violent resistance. He returned to Ohio and attended Oberlin Theological School. There he met Dr. King, who was fascinated with [James Lawson’s] knowledge of non-violence and invited him to come to Tennessee to teach students,” Lawson said. James Lawson held several non-violence workshops for students who would one day become prominent leaders, such as Congressman John Lewis.

James Lawson became the spiritual advisor for the Black Sanitation Workers and participated in the Memphis Sanitation Strike, a lengthy campaign for justice and union recognition.

According to Phil Lawson, “Dr. King joined James Lawson and the Black Sanitation Workers in a march on March 28, 1968, which erupted into violence leaving 60 demonstrators injured and one dead. My brother quickly hustled Dr. King to his car and urged him to leave, as things had really gotten out of hand.”

Dr. King, Ambassador Andrew Young and SCLC members returned to Memphis on April 3, 1968 prepared to march with sanitation workers again on April 8. Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Today, Rev. Phil Lawson and Rev. James Lawson continue to be champions for justice and peace.

Kia Croom is a contributing writer for the Richmond Post.