Penn State and the Eberly Foundation will fund a tribute to civil rights icon James Lawson


LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — The Eberly Foundation has committed funds to commission a sculpture of the Reverend James Lawson Jr., a renowned nonviolence tactician in the civil rights movement, to be installed at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus.

University and campus sources have matched the Eberly Foundation’s contribution to commissioning a figurative sculpture of Lawson to be displayed on campus. An artist proposal has been selected with commemoration details to follow.

Lawson was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania in 1928. The son of a pastor, he grew up in Massillon, Ohio, and earned his ministerial license while still in high school. Following parole from prison in 1952 for refusing to register with the United States Armed Forces, he traveled to India for missionary work with the Methodist Church. There he would become a practitioner of Gandhi’s methods of nonviolent resistance to bring about change.

He returned to the United States in 1956 to continue his education and he met Martin Luther King Jr., who encouraged him to lend his nonviolent activism to the nascent civil rights movement in the South. Its nonviolent workshops would empower prominent activists to lead sit-ins and desegregation protests across the country – including the Freedom Rides, March on Washington, Freedom Summer and others.

Lawson was expelled from Vanderbilt University in 1960 for his involvement in the movement, but would earn a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology from Boston College the same year. He moved to Los Angeles in 1974 and served as pastor of Holman United Methodist Church until his retirement in 1999. He continued his activism for the labor movement, reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights, immigrant rights and more . In 2004 Lawson received the Community of Christ International Peace Award. He has been a visiting scholar at California State University Northridge since 2010.

“Penn State Fayette is grateful to the Eberly Foundation for its commitment and support in paying this tribute to the Fayette campus and to Penn State,” said Charles Patrick, Chancellor and Director of Academics. “It is a true privilege to partner with the Eberly Foundation to honor the legacy of civil rights icon Reverend James Lawson. For the campus and region, this legacy tribute is an opportunity to share a vision of peaceful activism and to integrate Reverend Lawson’s story into the academic and extracurricular elements of campus and community.

The Eberly Foundation has supported higher education with scholarships, endowments, and charitable donations at 28 colleges and universities, beginning with Penn State Fayette in 1965, which was named The Eberly Campus in 2004 to honor the legacy of philanthropic support of family at Penn State and area.

“We at the Eberly Foundation are honored and thrilled to support the project to honor the Reverend Lawson, a pioneer of the civil rights era in the United States,” said Eberly Foundation President Robert E. Eberly Jr.

He added: “A colleague of Dr Martin Luther King, Reverend Lawson, was instrumental in advancing the cause of equality for all during one of the defining moments in the history of our nation. It is especially fitting that Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, is leading efforts to recognize this esteemed Uniontown native and recognize the magnitude of his accomplishments. The citizens of Uniontown, Fayette County, Pennsylvania—and, indeed, the entire country—are indebted to him for the freedoms all Americans enjoy today.

With the record-breaking success of “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” which raised $2.2 billion from 2016-2022, philanthropy helps maintain the University’s tradition of education, research, and service to communities across the Commonwealth and around the world. . Scholarships enable our institution to open doors and welcome students from all walks of life, support for transformative experiences enables our students and faculty to realize their vast leadership potential, and donations toward discovery and excellence help us serve and influence the world we share. To learn more about the impact of donations and the continued need for support, visit increase.psu.edu.

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