Phillip Lawson is the son of the Rev. James M. Lawson and Mrs. Philane Cover Lawson, and younger brother of Civil Rights Leader, James M. Lawson, Jr. He is a graduate of Kent State University, Butler University, Methodist Theological Seminary and Colgate Rochester Divinity School.
At the age of 15, Phil became engaged in the justice and peace movements, joining the Fellowship of Reconciliation and studying non-violent direct action; integrating the Methodist Youth Fellowship of Northeast Ohio Annual Conference. He was President of the segregated Lexington Conference, and participated in CORE desegregation non-violent direct action under the leadership of Bayard Ruskin and George Houser in Washington, D.C. His first arrest was at a drug store counter in 1950. Phil was a conscientious objector to the Korean War and later joined the army band in a non-combatant status, serving from 1953 to 1956.
Phil’s ministry began as Minister of Intergroup Relations in Toledo, Ohio, from 1964-1968. He served as organizer with clergy and laity concerned for Vietnam with Rev. Fernandez. He assisted in organizing Black Methodist for Church Renewal in 1968.
During 1968-1973, Phil was Pastor of St. James UMC and Executive Director of the Methodist Inner City Parrish in Kansas City, MO. The Inner City Parrish organized the Black Panther Party, Welfare Rights Organization and other Black youth. He served the City of Berkeley as Director of Program Development and Contract Administration from 1974 to 1980. He was appointed the first black pastor of the El Cerrito UMC and First UMC, Vallejo. Phil served the Northern California Ecumenical Council as Secretary and President, responsible for resettling thousands of Central American refugees. Phil was the organizer of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, supervising staff throughout the state of California.
Phil’s was appointed to Easter Hill UMC serving from 1992 to 2003. He was founder and organizer of Oakland’s Community Bank of the Bay. During his tenure with Easter Hill, he founded and organized Interfaith Witness with the Homeless in San Francisco and Richmond Vision, scoring the highest minimum wage in the country at that time working with the Central Labor Council.
In 2004, Phil worked with East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) as Director of Interfaith Housing; expand affordable housing opportunities in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. In 2006, Phil co-founded Black Alliance for Just Immigration, which now has offices in New York City and Oakland, California.
Rev. Lawson served as Adjunct Professor at Starr King School of Ministry in Berkeley, CA until April 2012. In May of 2013, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Sacral Theology by Starr King School of Ministry. Phil is married to Jo Ann Lawson, has two daughters, Joyce Renee and Kelly Gilbert and grandson Kelle Michael. Their son, Phillip (Pete) Jr., passed away in 1992.