Racial demonstrations in the South echoed religious overtones this month as leading clergymen voiced mixed reactions to integrationist methodology.
The incident which aroused the most sentiment was the expulsion from Vanderbilt University Divinity School of the Rev. James M. Lawson, 32, Negro Methodist minister who was arrested in Nashville on a charge of conspiring to disrupt commerce.
Lawson, a senior at the divinity school, had coordinated “sit-in” protests against “white only” lunch counters. He was released on $500 bail subscribed by the divinity school faculty. His expulsion by the university trustees’ executive committee was denounced in a statement signed by 15 of the theological faculty’s 16 members and 127 out of 180 faculty members of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Vanderbilt was originally Methodist-related, but is now under independent operation. Its interdenominational divinity school retains a minimum of Methodist ties.
Following Lawson’s dismissal because of his “announced program of conducting a civil disobedience campaign,” the Boston University School of Theology, a Methodist institution, offered him a full-tuition scholarship. In the meantime, Vanderbilt University Chancellor Harvie Branscomb announced that Lawson’s status would be reviewed by the university’s Board of Trust at its regular spring meeting, scheduled for May.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Negro Baptist minister and a leading integrationist, said he was especially “disappointed” at the expulsion because it came from “a Christian institution.”
“It represented,” he said, “a degree of moral cowardice on the part of those who expelled him.”
He called on university officials to reconsider the decision.
King called Lawson “a very dedicated ...1
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