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Rev. James Lawson weighs in on Tenth District controversy


One OW reader recently phoned after reading last week’s column by Dr. David Horne.

“I’m calling to insist that Mark Ridley-Thomas did not fall on his own sword,” said the Rev. James Lawson, lecturer and pastor emeritus at Holman United Methodist Church. “He is challenging the indictment, the written document, and he has good lawyers working on it.”

Lawson, who played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement alongside his friend, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., doubts seriously that a U.S. “Trump” era attorney (since the case has been investigated for more than two years) is going to find a case against Ridley-Thomas.

The former city councilman was suspended from his seat in District 10, due to the 20-count indictment and the charges of his allegedly conspiring a secret deal with USC when he was an L.A. county supervisor.

Lawson said that this indictment is probably the most refined and uninformed demonstration of racism. He explained that in his 93 years on this earth, he has seen quite a lot of racism, especially before the Movement, citing examples from teachers in his Ohio high school to his fellow students at Baldwin Wallace University.

“It was an independent, small college, which had some degree of integration,” Lawson said, noting that not quite 10 percent of the campus was Black at the Ohio commuter college in 1948. He was one of three or four Black men who lived on campus in the male dorm. “We would gather and eat and talk in bull sessions, long into the night on campus.”

Lawson dropped in on one of these sessions, which became unusually quiet when he entered the room.

“Their topic was ‘Negroes Stink,’” he said. “These are White guys who I’m in class with and play sports with and at least two of them, we had double-dated.”

Still, neither he nor his friends who were there could convince any of their White brothers that William Harrison “Bones” Dillard—an Olympic gold medalist and the best known student on their campus—did not stink, did not actually have an odor.

“Not a single negro stuent had any stench about them,” Lawson said. “But the majority of these White students had it stuck in their notion that negros stink.”

This is just one instance that stuck with the minister, regarding racism and its perplexity.

“The firing of Mark Ridley-Thomas has that kind of top dimension racism,” Lawson said, adding that he believes Ridley-Thomas to be one of the city’s best politicians. “White, Black blue, green, whatever – he has been one of our best.”

Lawson noted the 30-year politician’s Ph.D in Christian Social Ethics and how he  prepared himself to be an elected official through a sizable educational process.

“I rank him with people like Robert Kennedy, who I knew,” he said, noting that he attended a school conference with George McGovern once and was impressed. “I put Mark in the same category – those who prepare themselves to serve the USA people. George McGovern was the first person to make me know that politics should not be a dirty name.  Politics is about building the kind of home, block, neighborhood, city, village, tribe that is fair to all people.”

Lawson, who pastored his first church in 1950, said that folks have to remember that charges do not stand until a jury proves the indictment. He added that slave owners, lynch mob attendees, some police and a lot of white-collar crooks have never been indicted.

“Trump may never be indicted, but we know he’s a crook,” he said, adding that he knows plantation capitalism still has a role in American society.

“Mark didn’t fall on his own sword,” Lawson said. “He was pushed on a sword by  a system of which racism plays a part.