Reverend Bill Lawson dies at 95

By: Sharon C. Jenkins

Houston and the civil rights movement have lost a towering figure with the passing of Reverend William “Bill” Lawson, the esteemed founder of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, at the age of 95. Reverend Lawson, a lifelong advocate for justice and equality, passed away Tuesday morning, leaving behind a legacy of social activism that spanned decades. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, he was raised in Kansas City, Kansas, where he developed a passion for civil rights and social change. In 1955, Rev. Lawson arrived in Houston to work at Texas Southern University (TSU), where he quickly became a central  figure in the fight for civil rights.


During his tenure at TSU, he and his wife, Audrey Lawson, founded the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in 1962. Starting with just 13 members, the church grew under his leadership to become a beacon of hope and advocacy in Houston’s Third Ward, eventually boasting over 12,000 members. “Whatever title you may have used to describe him,” remarked Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, “it has been said many times that Rev. Bill Lawson was ‘Houston’s pastor.’”


Throughout his life, Rev. Lawson was deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement, hosting luminaries such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at his church and supporting student activists protesting segregation at TSU. “He courageously fought for the rights of Black people at a time when doing so could have meant death,” remarked Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee. “He was a world-class mind who for decades used his voice and influence to advocate for oppressed people in Houston, throughout the U.S., and across the globe.”


Beyond his pastoral duties, Rev. Lawson co-founded WALIPP (the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity) in 1996, a non-pro t organization dedicated to advocating for the underprivileged and promoting community development. WALIPP has been instrumental in establishing educational programs and affordable housing initiatives in Houston’s  ird Ward. In 2018, Rev. Lawson was appointed to a citywide commission focused on improving gun safety in local schools and communities, highlighting his ongoing commitment to addressing pressing social issues.


Recognizing his profound impact on the community, Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis described Rev. Lawson as a “pioneering force” in the civil rights movement, emphasizing his unwavering dedication to justice and equality. Rev. Lawson’s daughter, Melanie Lawson, a prominent journalist at KTRK, continues to carry forward her father’s legacy through her work in the media. As news of his passing spreads, tributes and condolences pour in from across Houston and beyond, affirming Rev. William “Bill” Lawson’s enduring influence as a preacher, activist, and advocate for social change. Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, had this to say about the passing of Rev. William “Bill” Lawson, “Rev. Lawson was a remarkable and beloved Pastor in the local Houston community.


Along with Rabbi Samuel Kar and Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, Rev. Lawson was a champion of civil rights and a bold preacher of God’s love in action. His great love for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his dedication to the Word of God, made him a credible witness to the power of God’s reconciling love for all people.” During an interview with Khambrel Marshall of Channel 2 in 2018, Rev. Lawson was asked about his desired legacy. In response, he expressed his hope of being remembered as someone who remained true to the essence of the gospel. According to him, the gospel emphasizes the importance of aiding the less fortunate by providing them with food and clothing. If he succeeded in faithfully fulfilling this aspect, he would be content with being recognized in such a manner.


Rev. “Bill” Lawson’s body will be available for public viewing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on  Thursday, May 23.  e Community Service of Celebration will take place at 6 p.m. on the same day, followed by the Congregational Service of Celebration at 11 a.m. on Friday, May 24. Both commemorative services will be held at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, located at 3826 Wheeler Avenue in Houston.

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