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Decorative digital collage containing a historical black-and-white photo of a young Rev. James Lawson Jr. alongside a full-color present day photo.

Civil rights icon Rev. Lawson shares stories of how he discovered ‘soul force’ & the path of nonviolence

In 1935, a young boy named Jimmy walked down a street in Massillon, Ohio to run an errand for his mother. Along the way, he encountered another boy, who hurled at him a racist epithet. Jimmy struck his accoster before going home and telling his mother of the encounter.

“My mother, without turning to me at all, continued to work at the stove where she was obviously preparing our evening meal. She said quietly to me, ‘Jimmy, what good did that do?’”

So began Rev. James Lawson Jr.’s lifelong pursuit of nonviolence as a means to achieve transformative social change. In 2021, the UCLA Labor Center dedicated its historic MacArthur Park building to the 93-year-old civil and worker rights leader, naming it the UCLA James Lawson Jr. Worker Justice Center. Just a few years prior, in 2018, Lawson received the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest honor.

In a two-part miniseries titled “Soul Force,” the UCLA Labor Center’s podcast Re:Work dives into Lawson’s early life and role in the twentieth century civil rights movement, using material from “Nonviolence and Social Movements” — the UCLA Labor Studies course Lawson has taught for the last 20 years alongside UCLA Labor Center Director Kent Wong.

The episodes survey Lawson’s legacy of advocating for justice in the face of racial segregation and labor exploitation. Included are retellings of Lawson’s childhood, his incarceration for being a conscientious objector to U.S. military enlistment, his travels to India as a student of Gandhi’s nonviolence teachings, and his role alongside Martin Luther King Jr. as a strategist in the civil rights movement.

Listen to the first and second episodes at or your favorite podcast platform:

Apple | Spotify | GoogleStitcher | Pocket Casts 

The episode are also available on YouTube:

Books by Rev. Lawson:

Revolutionary Nonviolence: Organizing for Freedom
Nonviolence and Social Movements: The Teachings of Rev. James M. Lawson Jr.