The Reverend James M. Lawson, Jr.—prominent civil rights leader, revered teacher and mentor, tireless advocate for social change, and hailed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world”—exemplifies the mission and values of the California State University and California State University, Northridge (CSUN), and our aspirations for our diverse student body. In addition to his many contributions and achievements as a civil rights leader, Rev. Lawson has established a strong relationship with CSUN through his involvement with the university’s Civil Discourse and Social Change (CDSC) Initiative.

Throughout his extraordinary career as a pastor, teacher and mentor, Rev. Lawson has shined a powerful light on the immorality of segregation and discrimination. He was instrumental in coordinating the lunch counter sit-ins in 1960, the Freedom Rides in 1961 and the Meredith March in 1966; and while working as a pastor at the Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis, he played a key role in the sanitation workers strike of 1968. His work in training volunteers in tactics of nonviolent direct action is laudable for its positive impact on our nation by saving and enriching countless lives while championing freedom.

In 1974, Rev. Lawson moved to Los Angeles to serve as pastor of Holman Methodist Church. Since his retirement in the early 2000s, Rev. Lawson has continued to speak out against racism and campaign against violence, advocate for immigration rights, oppose war and militarism, demonstrate for equal rights of gays and lesbians, and work to promote community diversity and solidarity.

Since 2010, Rev. Lawson has served as a visiting scholar at CSUN, teaching courses and conducting workshops on nonviolent activism as part of the university’s Civil Discourse and Social Change (CDSC) Initiative. He has guided the university’s faculty in developing the Initiative, and given numerous on-campus public lectures on the theory and methodology of nonviolent social change. Through his teaching and the Initiative, Rev. Lawson has mentored hundreds of students, including undocumented students.

In recognition of his place in our nation’s history as a valiant civil rights leader, his ongoing commitment to nonviolent change and equality, his extensive leadership and service to the community, and his important work at CSUN, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and California State University, Northridge confer upon the Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr. the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.