Meet My God-Father: Dr. Bernard LaFayette
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Politics and Activism

Meet My God-Father: Dr. Bernard LaFayette

A prominent leader.

Meet My God-Father: Dr. Bernard LaFayette

Many names in black history go unheard of but, Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr. is a civil rights activist and organizer, who played a great part in the Civil Rights Movement. LaFayette gained a reputation as a steadfast prominent nonviolence leader before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. offered him the position of the Program Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1967.

Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr. was born in Tampa, Florida to Bernard Lafayette, Sr., and Verdell Lafayette. At the age of eighteen, he moved from Tampa to Nashville, Tennessee to enroll in the American Baptist Theological Seminary hoping to start a better life. In 1959 he was trained in nonviolence by Rev. James Lawson Jr. and attended Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee run by Myles Horton. Lafayette began to use nonviolent techniques in his everyday life while being exposed to strong racial injustice of the South. In 1960, he, along with Diane Nash, James Bevel, and John Lewis, all members of the Nashville Student Movement, led sit-ins. Lafayette was the co-founder of a group called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Standing up for what LaFayette believed in caused him to endure jail time in Nashville, an arrest in Jackson, MS, and jail time at Parchman State Prison Farm in June 1961. After his work with the Freedom Riders campaign, he worked on voting rights and moved to Chicago to work with the End The Slums campaign. Lafayette was appointed by famous leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to become the national coordinator of the 1968 Poor Peoples Campaign. After Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, Lafayette completed his doctoral degree from Harvard University. In 1975 Dr. LaFayette established the first program and prison in Green Haven Prison in upstate New York teaching the inmates about nonviolence. Lafayette continues to travel around the world teaching nonviolence.

Dr. Bernard Lafayette wants to be remembered as the person who spoke to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the morning of his assassination on April 4, 1968. Dr. King mentioned to Dr. LaFayette that he wanted to internationalize and institutionalize nonviolence. Dr. LaFayette has strived to fulfill Dr. King request by teaching his concept of non-violence throughout 30 states and 60 countries.

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