Leslie Lawson, ‘Black History Profiles,’ Part IIII

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The Rev. Leslie Lawson, friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, retired after 23 years of service at York’s Small Memorial AME Zion Church in 1992. Background posts:
Mildred and Russell Chapman, Part I,
Roy Borom, Part II,
Gladys Rawlins, Part III.

The Rev. Leslie Lawson was jailed with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1962.
When reaching York in 1969, he immediately acted as a peacemaker during the race riots that summer.
“He invested his talents in the marketplace of human needs,” a bishop said in eulogizing Lawson at the pastor’s funeral in 1998… .


High praise for one of one of a large group of black people with York County links who have achieved on the local and national stages. The York Daily Record/Sunday News has developed profiles and published them in the daily and in Newspaper in Education publications for distribution to York County schools.
(If you’d like a copy, e-mail me your address and I’ll mail it out at no charge.)
This profile of Leslie Lawson was published in the York Daily Record/Sunday News in 2002:

Calming a storm of racial violence The Rev. Leslie Lawson was looking for a challenge.
He had already seen plenty of them. Lawson marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and he was jailed with him for five days after praying on the steps of an Atlanta courthouse in 1962. He had pastored a church in Connecticut for 14 years, and during his tenure, he convinced the Danbury police department to hire its first black police officer.
But he wanted a new challenge. He wanted to move to Chicago.
But the supervising bishop thought his leadership skills would benefit a church in York.
When Lawson arrived in 1969, he found the city burning in flames because of rioting. He took action to bring peace to the storm, dispelling rumors.
In June 1998, at Lawson’s funeral, Bishop Milton A. Williams Sr. of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, eulogized his friend.
” Leslie G. Lawson, a minister of the gospel, a brother, a friend, a wonderful man, was invested with talents,” Williams said then. “He invested his life and his talents in bringing liberation and freedom to people. He invested his talents in the marketplace of human needs.”
At his funeral, his wife, Madeline, said only God could love him more.
What is Lawson best known for?
“I’d think he would be best known for the work he did and his affiliation with the civil rights movement,” Madeline Lawson said.
What makes him a hero?
“The city was in turmoil on the day that he arrived,” his widow said of the 1969 race riots in York. “He joined rumor control to help quell the violence that was erupting.”
Who or what was Lawson’s inspiration?
“I think his greatest hero was Jesus Christ, rather than any human being. I think he tried in his way to pattern his life on the principles of Jesus – loving everyone, being compassionate with people, counseling, not just in his ministerial capacity but also as a member of the community,” she said.

What should York countians know about Lawson?

“I think York County should (know) about his struggle in the civil rights movement,” Madeline Lawson said, “and his devotion to trying to make the city a better place to live in.”
What is something few people realize about Lawson?
“I think few people realized his love and concern for this community once he became a member. He loved this community and all its people.”
What is the best piece of advice Lawson has given?
“I think the best piece of advice that he gave was to people who organized and met at the church in 1969. Many of them were reactionary, and they wanted to go out and have a confrontation with those people who they felt were responsible for the racial conflict going on in the city,” she said. “Instead of reacting, he told them that they should get together as a group and not be violent, but non-violent, and try to establish a solid community feeling so that they could avert or resolve the problems that were facing them at that time. He tried to encourage them to establish a legal way to resolve their problem and be co hesive as a community.”
If he were alive today, would Lawson consider himself to be a hero?
“If he were alive today, he would not consider himself a hero,” his wife said. “He would think of himself as a person who wanted to contribute to the world both spiritually and from a secular viewpoint. He wouldn’t think of it in terms of being heroic – but helpful and thoughtful.”
What would Lawson think of York County today?
“With all the things that are going on, this trial and so forth, I think that he would think these things should have been settled a long time ago,” Madeline Lawson said, referring to those on trial for the murders of Lillie Belle Allen and Officer Henry C. Schaad, who died during the race riots. “He would feel now, if he were still living, that people should direct their energy toward . . . resolving ethnic conficts which exist in this nation, because it develops hatred and, at the present time, we are in a war.”
In celebration of the accom plishments of blacks in history, the Daily Record is profiling 25 of a host of black people connected to York County who have made a difference locally, statewide or nationally. Some of these profiles will be featured in WGAL-TV’s series of public service announcements on black history in February. More black history will come to York May 2-4 at the 25th Annual Pennsylvania African American History Conference.
Bio
Occupation: He counseled people as a clergyman at Camp Hill Correctional Institution. But he left there to go into full-time ministry. He retired after 23 years of service at Small Memorial AME Zion Church, 401 S. Queen St., York, in 1992.
Born: May 5, 1923
Birthplace: Jamaica, West Indies
Died: June 1998
Children: Six children
Education: Attended University of West Indies, Yale Divinity School and University of Maine. Lawson had a bachelor’s degree, master’s of divinity and doctorate.
For a wealth of information on black history in York County, see: http://www.ydr.com/blackhistory.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. East Region Editor, Digital First Media. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
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