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Civil Rights leader Rev. James Lawson, 89, will be honored with the creation of a scholarship in his name at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reported.

The scholarship fund—which is a commemoration of Lawson’s contributions to fighting for racial equality—will be awarded to undergraduate students from underserved and underrepresented groups that are fierce advocates for social justice, the news outlet writes. It’s being financially backed by Vanderbilt alumnus Doug Parker who graduated from the institution’s Owen Graduate School of Management in 1986. His wife Gwen also contributed to the fund. Parker currently serves as the Chairman and CEO of American Airlines.

“Gwen and I have tremendous respect for Rev. Lawson and the enormous role he played in the civil rights movement,” Parker told the Vanderbilt News. “We were fortunate to learn much more about him during the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday several years ago in Selma, Alabama. We’re honored to help extend his legacy at Vanderbilt through this scholarship and support future generations of civil rights and social justice advocates.”

Leaders at the school echoed Parker’s sentiments. Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said that students and faculty can all be inspired by Lawson’s contributions and that the scholarship “enables current and future Vanderbilt students to follow in his footsteps and create legacies of their own as champions of civil rights and social justice.”

Amenah Anthony-Hunter—a Vanderbilt senior who hails from Memphis, Tennessee and is a public policy major—is one of the first recipients of the scholarship. She says the scholarship will empower her to focus on activism in her community. Lawson led powerful movements on Vanderbilt’s campus, in the city of Nashville and beyond during the peak of the Jim Crow era. As a student at Vanderbilt, he led sit-ins to have lunch counters desegregated in Nashville which eventually led to him being expelled from the university. Decades later he was awarded by the institution for his work, being recognized as a distinguished alumnus.


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