In 1958, Bernard Lafayette was 19 years old and a student at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee, when his life changed. Dragged to a nonviolence training session by his friend John Lewis (who later became a member of Congress), Lafayette learned the methods and techniques of nonviolent protest. These sessions catapulted Lafayette into the civil rights movement. Lafayette was arrested in the lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville, and in 1960 was one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. After Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, Lafayette continued his long career as a practitioner and trainer of nonviolence, opening nonviolence training centers around the world. In this interview with Sojourners web editor Jeannie Choi, Lafayette documents his progress from a young student of nonviolence during the civil rights movement to an international nonviolence trainer, equipping agents of peace and protest throughout the world.
Jeannie Choi: How did you get involved in the civil rights movement?
Bernard Lafayette: Jim Lawson, who was a chaplain and a divinity student at Vanderbilt University, started workshops on nonviolence at First Baptist Nashville. John Lewis and I were good friends, and he was the one who persuaded me to come to those workshops. I was a little reluctant because I didn't have time; I was a student and had a couple jobs on campus and a job downtown during the lunch hour washing dishes. But through the training, I learned to see the world through another person's eyes. That was an important step in my personal development.
What methods were used to train you in nonviolence?