Jennifer Lawson first became active in the civil rights movement as a high school student in Alabama in 1963 and continued her activism at Tuskegee University, leaving college in 1965 to work full-time with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She worked in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, spending several months in Lowndes County, Alabama, where she created comic books and billboards to support the campaign of the Lowndes County Freedom Democratic Party, which used a black panther as its symbol. Subsequently, she worked with other SNCC veterans in Washington DC and Tanzania to establish a bookstore and publishing company in the 1970s, with an emphasis on African and African American history and culture.
Lawson produced documentary films, an eight-hour TV series on Africa with National Geographic, and became the first chief programming executive at PBS in 1989 and the first African American to hold a top programming post at a major network. She has served in many executive roles, including Senior Vice President, Television and Digital Media at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. She was honored with the Ralph Lowell Award, public television’s highest award, in 2016.
Lawson currently works with the SNCC Legacy Project, helping in the development, with Duke University, of the SNCC Digital Gateway, an archival resource of the civil rights movement. She is also vice chair of the Executive Advisory Council of the American Archive for Public Broadcasting.