Rev. James Lawson, center, is presented with a sign of the renamed stretch of Adams Blvd. to the Reverend James Lawson Mile. (Brian W. Carter/L.A. Sentinel)

The renaming event commemorates the life and legacy of the civil rights icon.

The office of Councilwoman Heather Hutt held a special celebration in partnership with Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO President Yvonne Wheeler to designate a one-mile stretch of Adams Boulevard as the “Reverend James Lawson Mile” on Jan. 11.

“That’s what we’re doing, we’re overcoming so much here in Los Angeles today,” said Hutt. “More than 50 years ago, iconic leaders like our beloved Reverend James Lawson and his mentor, Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. organized impactful marches that brought thousands of people together for their intention to demand fair wages, economic justice, voter rights, education and the end of segregation.”

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Hutt continued, “These calls to action have paved the way for progress and continue to resonate strongly even today. I’m proud to see so many of us gathered here today. I’m really happy about the partnership that we have with President Yvonne Wheeler of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor, who made sure that members of labor all over the county are here representing non-violent protests, economic justice and fair wages.

“I’m proud to see neighbors and friends and neighborhood councils here today to talk about the values that leaders like Reverend Lawson dedicated their lives to instill in us all.”

Councilwoman Heather Hutt along with a coalition of city officials, organizations and community members marched in honor of the Reverend James Lawson Mile on Adams Boulevard.  (Brian W. Carter/L.A. Sentinel)

“Over the years, we have played a key role in advancing workers right here in Los Angeles, fighting to raise wages so that working families can afford to keep a roof over their head and food on their table,” said Wheeler. “We spearheaded minimum wage increases to ensure that no worker is living in poverty.”

Wheeler continued, “We played an integral role in reducing the racial and gender wage gap because we know that women’s rights are workers’ rights, gender equality are workers’ rights and racial justice is workers’ rights.

“We helped to spearhead last year’s hot labor summer, which we saw over 100,000 union members hit the streets to fight and win historic life-changing improvements to their workplaces.

“I know this was all made possible because of the shoulders that we stand on, which is Reverend James Lawson, so, to honor that sentiment, I’m here to honor him as a civil rights icon, who we call our very own.”

“I’m honored to be here for a number of reasons,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell. “I am a proud member of the United Methodist Church, I’m a Holmanite and I’m a proud United Methodist because social justice is integral and the teachings of the United Methodist Church.”

Mitchell continued, “I am clear that I do what I do and have done really, my entire professional career, whether elected or not, because of my orientation to social justice through Holman United Methodist Church and primarily through the teachings of Reverend Lawson.

“I would not be a student [of] Lawson if I didn’t draw a direct correlation between the words we just heard immortalized by Brother [Sam] Cooke ‘that a change is gonna come.’

From left are Jacqueline Dupont-Walker, founding president of Ward Economic Development Corporation, Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins, Councilwoman Heather Hutt and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO President Yvonne Wheeler. (Brian W. Carter/L.A. Sentinel)

“And I think we always look at that verse in the affirmative, but I would argue in 2024, Reverend Lawson, a change will come if we don’t show up to vote. I would not be a student of Reverend Lawson if I didn’t remind us of what happens when we don’t show up and show out.

“A change will sure enough come and roll right over us if we don’t show up and honor, Reverend Lawson’s legacy in a meaningful, profound way.”

The event kicked off with a civil rights march from 6th Street and Adams Blvd. to Holman United Methodist Church. Local city officials, organizations, church clergy, family and friends marched down Adams Blvd., preceded by a vintage MTA bus.

The commemorative event paid homage to the iconic civil rights leader, currently 95-years-old, who led the Civil Rights Movement through the development and teaching of nonviolent protest techniques. These techniques were passed down to influential leaders, such as Dr. King. Throughout his life, Lawson fought tirelessly for civil rights, becoming an active participant in the Labor Movement, working with the American Civil Liberties Union, and championing the movements for reproductive, LGBTQ+, and immigrant rights.

Lawson shared some words about the renaming of a portion of Adams Blvd after him.

“I’m deeply grateful. My wife and I are very glad this is happening,” said Lawson. “I’m grateful for this afternoon and for what this represents.”

Lawson added, “Despising human beings can never cause the world to become a better place. The United States must learn that. I hope we will not learn it the hard way.”

“Many of us know that all across the United States of America, one of the more important institutions: faith communities,” said Rev. Dr. Ken J. Walden, senior pastor of Holman United Methodist Church. “Small towns, large cities, really faith communities help to bring people together.

“So, even in 2024, the faith community still brings people together in a spirit of love, justice, equality, mercy. The faith community still bringing people together of all religions, all races, genders, persuasions. So, I am glad that you and I are still following the tradition that our foremothers and our forefathers started centuries ago.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell speaks about the importance of honoring Rev. James Lawson’s legacy. (Brian W. Carter/L.A. Sentinel)

Hutt shared her feelings of the day honoring Lawson with the renaming of part of Adams Blvd. She hopes that when youth see it, it will push them to find out what Lawson has done for this country.

“Today was really surreal for me,” said Hutt. “To be with an icon, Reverend James Lawson, it’s important that people know his contribution to civil rights and the changes that were made for equality and human rights, not just civil rights.”

“It’s overwhelming. It’s amazing to be in the company of someone like Dr. Lawson, who I’ve worked for for years, and to be here to see a street named after someone who I consider an icon, that most people don’t know the history, was amazing,” said Wheeler.

“You know Holman means, I can’t even begin to say what this church with Reverend Lawson means to me,” said Mitchell. “My father was president of the choir and United Methodist Men’s Choir.

“I grew up here at Holman and grew up with that booming voice. It is still there and so for me, particularly at times like this, I think it is a reminder of his legacy.

“What he believed, what he continues to teach, teaching today, students at UCLA and what we all have an obligation and responsibility to do. So, it speaks to me on all of those levels and at 95. He’s still here. He’s still kicking, and he is committed to love and peace.”