Lunch Counter Sit-In Activist Ousted From Vanderbilt in 1960 Is Back, as a Teacher

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Just before 6 p.m. on a recent evening, students began to fill a lecture hall at Vanderbilt University. Some pressed cellphones to their ears, others sipped cups of coffee. Flip-flops scuffed the carpet as the students shed book bags and opened laptops.

A typical class, perhaps — until the teacher with the shock of white hair rose from the table at the front of the hall, greeted the students and asked a question: “How many of you have experienced a hate crime against yourself? Let’s see the hands.”

So began the lecture by the Rev. James M. Lawson Jr., 78, who returned to teach at Vanderbilt this fall, 46 years after the university expelled him for his role in lunch-counter sit-ins that made Nashville a springboard for a generation of civil rights activists.

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