Symposium, lecture to celebrate James Lawson chair at Vanderbilt; Dennis C. Dickerson speaks March 23, Lawson symposium is March 24

Vanderbilt University will celebrate the establishment of the James M. Lawson Jr. Chair at Vanderbilt with a symposium on Lawson’s legacy and an inaugural lecture by the first holder of the Lawson Chair.

Among those scheduled to participate are author David Halberstam; civil rights movement leaders Bernard LaFayette Jr. and the Rev. Otis Moss; and John Seigenthaler, founder of The First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt.

The Rev. Lawson, a key leader during the civil rights movement and a steadfast adherent and teacher of nonviolent change, is winding up an academic year as Distinguished Visiting Professor at Vanderbilt. Famously expelled as a divinity student in 1960 from Vanderbilt for his participation in the Nashville civil rights movement, his extended return visit has been noted by media across the country.

“The return of the Rev. Lawson this academic year to teach our students and once again be an inspirational daily voice in the Vanderbilt community has been tremendously enriching to the university,” said Nicholas Zeppos, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

“The new James M. Lawson Jr. Chair at Vanderbilt will be a permanent reminder of his legacy at Vanderbilt, and the symposium on March 24 is a great opportunity for the community to learn more about his contributions to the nonviolence movement and civil rights.”

The chair, funded by an anonymous donor, will be held by Dennis C. Dickerson, an expert in American and African American history, especially the labor and civil rights movements.

“This a great honor, indeed,” Dickerson said. “I have long admired the Rev. James Lawson and the activism and intellectual seriousness and values commitment he’s brought to his civil rights movement participation. Along with Ella Baker and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., I consider James Lawson as one of the most important intellectual architects of nonviolent direct action in the United States.

“This praise comes from a mixture of my personal admiration as well as my scholarship.”

Dickerson will deliver an inaugural lecture at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 23, in Benton Chapel on the Vanderbilt campus. The lecture is titled “Rooted in India: William Stuart Nelson and the Religious Origins of the Civil Rights Movement.”

A reception will follow the lecture, which is free and open to the public.

The symposium, “Nonviolence and Social Change: The Legacy of James M. Lawson and His Contemporaries,” will be held in Benton Chapel from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 24.

Among those taking part:

  • David Halberstam, who covered the Nashville civil rights movement for The Tennessean and later authored the book The Chidren about it.
  • Bernard LaFayette Jr., a veteran of the Nashville civil rights movement and director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island.
  • Barbara Savage, the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Cynthia Fleming, associate professor of history at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and an expert on the civil rights movement.

The symposium is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.

Media Contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS