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[Xmca-l] Re: James Lawson and perezhivanie

Andy, thank you for the timely post, especially as we move forward in the
shadow of authoritarianism here in the USA. Lawson's example of choosing
non-violent protest, following Gandhi, is helpful. Consider the
effectiveness of millions of people last weekend peacefully taking to the
streets with few if any arrests (side note: we all went as a family here in
Philly, it was great). Contrast the Black Bloc member's sucker punch of
neo-nazi Richard Spencer: people are cheering it, but those same people
probably realize it's not a scalable strategy. Different tours de force,
different effects, the gender connotations of which are interesting.

*P <http://goog_1035151535/>**erezhivanie
<http://wiki.lchc.ucsd.edu/CHAT/Perezhivanie> *is a new term to me, which I
link here to the XMCA blog for those other also unfamiliar with it. It
seems like a pretty clear gloss of a term I do know well, *Erlebnis,
(I dislike the gloss of that Dilthey-an term as "lived" experience...but
that's for another discussion).

It's fascinating to learn about Lawson's vocational decision-making
process, and to consider the possible effects of violent and non-violent
dissent. But perhaps you could clarify for us Andy why you thought Lawson's
story was an example of *perezhivanie*? Where's the point of analytical
traction? If it means more than "experience", how can we apply that broader
meaning here? It seems like he had a Pauline metanoia/conversion
experience. Is that what you mean?


Andrew Babson, Ph.D.
Graduate School of Education
University of Pennsylvania

On Sun, Jan 22, 2017 at 4:40 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

James Lawson is the Methodist preacher who trained the young members of the
SNCC in non-violent action and wrote their constitution. I paste below and
attach an excerpt from my book "The Origins of Collective Decision Making"
which narrates Lawson's life up until April 1960. Perezhivanie was not the
topic under discussion so it is not mentioned in the text, but xmca-ers
should be able to see it, an example of perezhivanie:


James Lawson was born in 1928, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. His father,
James Snr., was the grandson of an escaped slave, and a Minister for the
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in New England.

Via the Free African Society(FAS) the Methodists had recruited freed slaves
in Philadelphiain 1787, but as a result of a racist incident, some left to
found the African Methodist Episcopal Church(AMEC). Nonetheless, many
African Americans stayed with the United Methodist Church. The AMEC split
started in Philadelphia and the AMEC Zion Church was a split that came out
of New York. It was to AMEC Zion, James Lawson was born.

However, Lawson returned to The United Methodist Church, created by a 1939
merger of several branches of the Methodist Church, which set up five
regional ‘jurisdictions’ of Methodists in the US, organized to maintain
regionally identity and a sixth, called the ‘Central Jurisdiction’ which
combined the Black annual conferences, thus building segregation into the
constitution of the Church.The Methodists went through a long and painful
process, carried out in accordance with the Methodist Code of Discipline,
which mandates the principle of Majority, to re-integrate the white and
Black, but it was not till after 1964 that Black conferences started to
merge into white conferences. At the local level, congregations continued
much as before. So it was within the Black section of the segregated United
Methodist Church, that James Lawson became a Methodist.

James Snr. was a militant preacher; he packed a 38 pistol and set up
branches of the NAACP wherever he was assigned to preach. After serving at
St. James AMEZ Church in Massillon, Ohio, he transferred to the Lexington
Annual Conference of the Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist
Church. James Snr. was no pacifist and according to Lawson he “refused to
take any guff from anyone, particularly on the point of race” and “insisted
that he was going to be treated as a man.”

Lawson’s mother, Philane May Cover, on the other hand, was decidedly
nonviolent. Lawson’s challenge, which was to form his character, was to
reconcile his father’s militancy with his mother’s nonviolence. Lawson grew
up in Massillon. One day, at the age of 10, Lawson was asked by his mother
to run an errand:

A little white child in an automobile yelled ‘nigger’ out the opened
window. I walked over ... and, since I was in a hurry running my mother’s
errand, I smacked the child and went on my way. When the Lawson kids got
called ‘nigger’ on the streets or at school, we usually fought. I don’t
know where we got that from, except that we figured that it was something
to fight over. (Lawson, cited in King, 1999)

On the return trip home, aware of possible repercussions, Lawson tried to
find the parents of the offending child, to talk to them, but the car was
gone. Once home, he told his mother of the incident. Lawson’s mother
replied, “Jimmy, what good did that do?”

She talked about who I was, the fact of God’s love, that we were a family
of love and that such an incident could not hurt me, because of who I was.
I don’t remember anyone else being around, but a stillness took over my
being at that moment. It was, as I realized much later on, a mystical
experience. In a very real way, my life stood still. I realized in that
stillness that I had changed forever. One of the phrases my mother used in
her conversation with me was that ‘there must be a better way’. I
determined, from then on, that I would find the better way. (Lawson, cited
in King, 1999, pp. 187-188)

He first became acquainted with Gandhi’s experiments in nonviolence as a
child, thanks to the African-American press which the family discussed
around the dinner table, and had read Gandhi’s autobiography as a teenager.
At Baldwin Wallace College, a liberal arts Methodistcollege in Berea, Ohio,
he studied Thoreau, Gandhi and Tolstoy, and the pacifist theologians
Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Niebuhr. At age 19, he became a draft
resister, refusing service in the Korean War. Executive director of
Fellowship Of Reconciliation (FOR), A. J. Muste,frequently visited to
lecture at the College:

All of us in history classes were required to hear Muste. I was thrilled.
He made me realize that I was not alone in my experimentation, that there
was a world movement, and a national movement. ... He acquainted me with
the Fellowship Of Reconciliation, which I joined on the spot in 1947. That
meant that I got exposed to their book list.

After hearing a lecture by A. J. Muste, he joined FOR and CORE. Muste was
instrumental thereafter in strengthening Lawson’s nonviolent orientation,
directing him towards Gandhi and later facilitating his entry into the
sit-in and boycott movement beginning in the South. In the late 1940s and
early 1950s Lawson had organized sit-ins and protests directed at
establishments that discriminated against blacks in Massillon, long before
the Montgomery bus-boycott.

He was also active with the National Conference of Methodist Youth.
Although a member of a segregated Methodist Church, he found plenty of
support for his stands against racial discrimination and war from his white
colleagues and church fellows. While he was in prison serving thirteen
months of a two and a half year term for draft resistance in 1952, he was
re-elected as Vice-President of the NCMY.

Wesleyan Methodism was central to Lawson’s outlook. Just as John Wesley had
sought to cleanse individuals of iniquity, so could society be purged of
the social sins of slavery, segregation, poverty, and war.Generations of
African American Methodists from Harriet Tubman (AMEZ) and Henry M. Turner
(AME) in the nineteenth century, to Rosa Parks (AME) and James Farmer
(MEC), were led to social justice activism by this Methodist heritage.

Lawson used his prison time to read and think. Writing from prison in 1952
aged 23 years old and yet to enter the seminary, Lawson said he aspired to
emulate “the life of Jesus, St. Francis, George Fox, Gandhi, Buddha... and
other great religious persons.” These figures attached little importance to
“theology but (to their) experience with God.”Further, he noted “religious
failures today are in (the arena of) experience and practice, not
theology.” When Lawson entered prison, he was a Christian pacifist.He told
Mary King however, that his “first commitment was to work on race,” and
conscientious objection came second.By the time of his release, he had
advanced to Gandhian nonviolence. He wondered “why can’t a mass non-violent
revolution be staged throughout the South where the segregation pattern is
much like the ‘untouchables’ of India? Such a movement would have to start
with one person who had the Christian vision to make such a revolution a
reality in his own life.” Gandhian nonviolence became the synthesizing
factor for Lawson’s religious thinking: the militancy of his father’s
Methodism and the Christian pacifism that he drew from his mother.

Muste arranged for Lawson to visit India after his release from prison with
a letter of introduction to activists in the Gandhian movement, and he
remained in India from May 1953 to 1956, working at Hislop College in
Nagpur, reading Indian literature and working with Gandhi’s movement.
Lawson’s practice would remain deeply religious; his nonviolence was
saturated with the message of Christian love, and blended with principles
synthesized from a broad range of religious and secular sources, both
Eastern and Western. His aim was the “mass education and training of people
in the use of nonviolent direct action techniques.” Lawson insisted that
“you are fighting a system, not an individual, not a race, or not the
people of another country, but a system.”

He continued his study of pacifism and Gandhian nonviolence at Oberlin
College, Ohio. While still in India, he had read about Martin Luther King
and his successful leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott.King’s lecture
at Oberlin on February 6, 1957, fortified his long-held intention to work
in the South for transformative social change. After King’s lecture to a
packed audience, he and Lawson talked together at dinner.Though Lawson was
contemplating study for a Ph.D., King told him “don’t wait, but come south
now!” adding that there was no one else like Lawson.Muste arranged for FOR
to hire Lawson as southern field secretary to be stationed at Nashville in
January 1958. Upon his arrival, he found that Glenn Smiley, national field
director of FOR, had arranged for Lawson to run a full schedule of
workshops ‒ including one to take place early that year at the first annual
meeting of the SCLC in Columbia, South Carolina.

At the SCLC meeting, King made an exuberant introduction of Lawson as FOR’s
new regional representative and discussed the organization’s role in
Montgomery, telling delegates to be sure to attend Lawson’s workshop on
nonviolence. King took his seat in the first pew, waiting for the
three-hour session to start:

Martin did that at every SCLC meeting as long as he lived. He would ask me
to conduct an afternoon workshop, usually two or three hours, and he would
arrange for it to be ‘at-large’ so that everyone could attend, with nothing
else to compete. He put it on the schedule himself. A few minutes early, he
would show up and sit alone, as an example, in the front row.

Back in Nashville, Lawson continued with Monday evening workshops during
the autumn of 1959 in which he trained the students who were to be the core
of the Nashville sit-in movement. As a result of his involvement with the
sit-ins Lawson was expelled from Vanderbilt, but he enrolled with Boston
University to finish his degree in theology,while continuing to work with
the students. Several professors in the School of Theology resigned over
his expulsion.

The techniques that the students deployed were drawn from Lawson’s
workshops. In 1958 and 1959, Lawson mobilized all that he knew about
Christian pacifism, Gandhian nonviolence, and Methodist social ministry and
blended them into an unprecedented curriculum that influenced the civil
rights movement in Nashville and beyond.

Blending Christianity and interreligious sources, he did not present its
philosophy and practice as a secular doctrine, but as the essence of
religion itself. Core to nonviolence was mirroring God’s love for humankind
and exhibiting it through concrete relationships of human solidarity and
community. “Nonviolence,” Lawson taught, is the aggressive, forgiving,
patient, long-suffering Christ-like and Christ-commanded love or good-will
for all humankind even in the face of tension, fear, hatred, or demonic
evil.” Moreover, “it is the readiness to absorb suffering with forgiveness
and courage rather than to inflict suffering on others.”

Lawson divided his instruction into four modules: how nonviolence reacts,
training for nonviolence, the virtues of nonviolence, and the methods of
nonviolence. Practitioners prepared themselves by jettisoning anger,
hostility and fear thus “minimizing the effect of an attack,” valuing love,
courage, fearlessness, and forgiveness, and pursuing redemptive suffering
which “releases unknown elements for good.” Preparation included meditation
and prayer, study of the scriptures, practicing nonviolence through
challenges to segregation in bus transportation and in other public
facilities.The practice steps included fact-finding, negotiation, education
of the community, and various methods of nonviolent direct action including
sit-ins, boycotts, strikes, and civil disobedience. Lawson provided an
extensive bibliography including relevant verses from the Bible, the
Bhagavad Gita, and from the Chinese philosopher, Mo Ti and the Hebrew
prophet, Isaiah.

The Nashville sit-ins and those led by students in other southern cities
convinced Ella Baker of the SCLC to call a conference in April, 1960, at
Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Out of this meeting emerged the
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.Lawson delivered an opening
keynote address that helped to frame SNCC’s nonviolent trajectory.Later,
Lawson summarized discussions and consensus that emerged out of the
conference, and his synopsis received the approval of everyone there.
Lawson’s overall comments said that “nonviolence as it grows from
Judaic-Christian tradition seeks a social order of justice permeated by

It was Lawson who delivered the keynote address and framed SNCC’s
nonviolent orientation.

The whole group, perhaps 120 participants, all in the room, asked me to
draft a statement. Eventually, three different drafts emerged. The
Nashville group was cohesive. The extant draft was the third, influenced by
the Nashville group, after two earlier conversations. (Interview with King,
June 2014)

Lawson’s synopsis was approved by the Conference.

In a private email message Mary King told me:

He [James Lawson] was reading from the FOR booklist from a young age, but I
don’t think that he was influenced on notions of Consensus by Quakers,
because the connection was too abstract. Let me underscore that he says it
was for him Methodist origins. (Private email, 15 April 2014)

In his interview with Mary King, Lawson confirmed that the origin of
Consensus in SNCC was the Nashville Central Committee, confirming what Mary
King had told me in April. As to the roots Consensus in Lawson’s own
experience, he emphasized that:

It was the Methodist youth and student movements with which I had grown up,
and this is how they made decisions. They knew the rules of parliamentary
procedures, but they wanted to find a common mind. (Interview with King,
June 2014)

The Methodist Church to this very day still mandates Majority decisions,
but this would never have entailed children voting ‒ in general youngsters
in these organizations were simply told what to do. The Black congregations
had operated separately for more than a century, so there was some room for
Lawson to develop a consensual model of collaboration in working with young
people. It is also possible the Black congregations, like other Black
Churches in America, drew on other traditions of decision making.



Andy Blunden