William A. “Bill” Lawson was born in St. Louis, Mo., reared in Kansas City, Kansas, and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at Tennessee A & I State University of Nashville in 1950. He returned to Kansas City to attend Central Baptist Theological Seminary, which conferred upon Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees. While in seminary, he married Audrey Hoffman Lawson of St. Louis and had four children.
He came to Houston after graduation from seminary to serve as director of the Baptist Student Union and Professor of Bible at the new Texas Southern University. He served in that position for 10 years, also becoming director of Upward Bound, a pre-college program for high school students on the TSU campus.
While at TSU, Lawson helped build the first Afro-American Studies Program at the University of Houston and taught classes in sociology and the Black Church. His involvement with the Civil Rights Movement began when 14 TSU students held a sit-in protesting segregation at a lunch counter.
After founding the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, Lawson invited the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at his church in 1963. Lawson served as a pastor for over 30 years. In honor of his dedication to the community, the community created a non-profit organization called the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity.
He has received honorary doctorates from Howard Payne College in Brownwood, the University of Houston and Texas Southern University. He is the author of a book of meditations called Lawson’s Leaves of Love.
He retired from Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in 2004 but remains its Founding Pastor Emeritus. His wife, Audrey, passed away in 2015.