Skip to content


Statement on the passing of labor and civil rights champion Rev. James Lawson Jr.

Rev. Lawson in front of the UCLA James Lawson Jr. Worker Justice Center, December 21, 2021. (UCLA Labor Center/Reed Hutchinson)

The UCLA Labor Center is very sad to announce the passing of Rev. James Lawson Jr., 95, one of the civil rights movement’s most prominent leaders, a lifelong advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence, and a UCLA labor studies faculty member.

In 2018, Rev. Lawson was awarded the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest honor. In December 2021, the UCLA Labor Center’s historic MacArthur Park building was officially named the UCLA James Lawson Jr. Worker Justice Center, in recognition of Lawson’s decades-long commitment to the labor movement of Los Angeles. His unwavering commitment to the fight for economic, social and racial justice was always matched by his work to develop new generations of young people to embark on a journey to advance social change.

In 1974, Rev. Lawson moved to Los Angeles and became pastor of Holman United Methodist Church, where he led his congregation to mobilize for peace and justice. His work with the Los Angeles hotel workers union achieved higher wages and improved working conditions by mobilizing sit-ins, hunger strikes, and civil disobedience protests. He taught major unions to embrace nonviolence, inspiring the transformation of the Los Angeles labor movement.

Kent Wong, former UCLA Labor Center director and current director for labor and community partnerships, co-taught a nonviolence course at UCLA alongside Lawson for over 20 years. He expressed profound admiration and respect for the loss of his esteemed mentor and friend.

“Rev. Lawson was an extraordinary visionary leader who introduced the philosophy of nonviolence to a new generation of Los Angeles labor and civil rights leaders. Our deepest condolences go out to his family. Let us all continue to carry on his memory and legacy.”

In the coming weeks, the UCLA Labor Center and UCLA Labor Studies housed at the UCLA Institute for Research for Labor and Employment will be announcing events and other activities to honor Rev. Lawson’s life with the Los Angeles labor community.