Staff and Wire Reports
LOS ANGLES — On a day that it also voted to require the completion of one Ethnic Studies course as a high school graduation requirement, the Los Angeles school board also voted to name a school after the Rev. James Lawson, one of the architects of nonviolence resistance during the civil rights movement.
In addition to his work in the South during in the civil rights movement, Lawson served as the pastor of Holman United Methodist Church for 25 years.
“We honor the Reverend James Lawson for his leadership and brilliance, for his commitment to nonviolent resistance during the civil rights movement, and his willingness to train so many in these tactics; for a life filled with sacrifices, perseverance and unending public service throughout the South and in Los Angeles even today as he anticipates turning 92 next month,” board member George J. McKenna said following the vote Aug. 25.
“I have worked with him for decades, including as a board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference – Los Angeles. Few have improved the laws, progress toward racial equality and the moral fabric of this nation as much as my friend Reverend Lawson.”
Now 91, Lowery worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rep. John Lewis, who learned his nonviolent protest techniques during Rev. Lawson’s workshops for college students in Nashville. He prepared them for the downtown sit-ins that challenged legal whites-only policies at lunch counters, and the Freedom Rides, which he joined.
His students also participated in the March on Washington, the voter registration campaigns in Mississippi, the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham where police turned powerful fires hoses and sicced dogs on the young protesters, and the 1965 March to Selma. He moved to Los Angeles in 1974, and taught at UCLA and continued his activism in support of the rights of workers and immigrants while also being the pastor at Holman.
“We honor Reverend Lawson, who has spent his life in pursuit of equity and social justice for all through leadership and teaching,” LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said.
“The Reverend James Lawson, Jr., has inspired me for more than 40 years,” said school board member Jackie Goldberg, a former city councilwoman and state legislator who sponsored the board resoltution to honor Lowery. “This devoted follower of the non-violent activism of Ghandi, was instrumental in organizing and teaching young African-Americans this philosophy.
“When he moved to Los Angeles in 1974, I began to hear him speak at his church services. It led to my active involvement in the civil rights movement here in Los Angeles. This man is a national treasure, and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to sit in his presence and learn from him how to struggle to become an anti-racist activist.”
“The life and leadership of Rev. James Lawson Jr. teaches our students rich lessons of being a learner, a leader and agent of social change,” board member Mónica García said. “We continue to learn and practice the principles of love and non-violence he teaches.”
The board will decide at a later date what school to rename after Lowery with input from district staff.
“Schools are powerful symbols of our community values and should be named for figures whose actions and achievements we seek to uplift in the communities we serve — including leaders like Rev. James Lawson Jr.,” board member Nick Melvoin said. “As the mind of the civil rights movement, he has continued his social activism — not only for racial justice, but also for immigrant rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and to lift people out of poverty — for over 60 years.”
The school board also voted to expand ethnic studies courses to all students in the district while requiring district students to pass an ethnic studies course to graduate from high school.
“Culturally meaningful and relevant curricula lead students to become more personally engaged and more likely to graduate,” said school board member Kelly Gonez, who introduced the ethnic studies resolution.
“This resolution is centered on the principle that every child in our district deserves an education that tells their story, that reflects their identity and that challenges us all to tear down the systems of oppression, racism, anti-Blackness, anti-indigeneity, and white supremacy that have stained the legacy of our country.”
In addition to asserting the commitment to a graduation requirement, the resolution calls for the district to integrate ethnic studies into the PreKindergarten to eighth grade curricula. It also directs the superintendent to ensure instructional materials in all grade levels include texts written by authors who are Black, indigenous, and other people of color.
A report to the board on a plan to fully implement ethnic studies as a graduation requirement by the 2023-24 school year is expected within 180 days.