Living Legend: Rev. Lawson

HOUSTON – William A. “Bill” Lawson is Pastor Emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston’s, Third Ward.

Lawson was born in St. Louis, Mo., and reared by Walter and Clarisse Lawson Cade in Kansas City, Kansas, where he graduated from Sumner High School in 1946. He 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. The Lawsons have four children, two grandchildren, and celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary in January of 2015.

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 ten years, also becoming director of Upward Bound, a pre-college program for high school students on the TSU campus.

During his years at TSU, a number of residents of the neighborhood persuaded the Lawson’s to establish a church near the university.

Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church was established in their home in June, 1962. The congregation has grown to over 12,000 members, with many outreach programs, and is much respected in the community.

Since the church was born and lived its infant years during the Civil Rights Movement, Lawson has been deeply involved in advocacy activities for African-Americans, Hispanics-Americans, women and the poor.

In 1996, his 50th anniversary of being a minister, the Houston community honored him with the creation of a non-profit advocacy agency called WALIPP, the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity. That agency has gone before public officials and bodies on behalf of the underclass, and now has established two single-gender charter schools for boys and girls. WALIPP has also constructed 50 units of apartments for seniors in Houston’s Third Ward.

Finally, the agency is pulling together community development groups, churches, civic clubs and local governments to redevelop the Third Ward, so that aggressive real estate development will not expel all who need affordable housing.

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.

Prior to Audrey’s passing in 2015, she and Lawson always worked in close partnership with the Baptist Student Union at TSU, the church during his tenure there and now with WALIPP. Rev. Lawson will celebrate his 91st birthday in June.

He retired from Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in 2004, but remains its Founding Pastor Emeritus.

Source: Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church