Texas Southern University establishes endowment, names street in honor of community, spiritual and civil rights icon
(Houston) February 25, 2022 – As part of its Black History Month celebration, Texas Southern University honored the life and legacy of Reverend William D. Lawson, a community trailblazer who helped transform TSU, the Third Ward, and countless lives as founding pastor of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.
He and his family – including daughters Melanie, Roxanne and Cheryl – as well as the church he founded, were celebrated during TSU’s first-ever Black History Month Convocation and tribute luncheon. While Rev. Lawson was unable to attend, he did watch the livestream from his home.
“We have the privilege of honoring one of our own, who is truly a pillar of the community,” said Dr. Lesia Crumpton-Young, TSU President. “He is a living example of Black excellence. He is someone who, as our history book says, was ‘born to serve.'”
During the Convocation, the world-renowned TSU Debate Team gave an impressive performance highlighting the civil rights movement and Rev. Lawson’s role in guiding Houston and TSU through the period of desegregation. At the tribute luncheon, the university announced the establishment of the William A. Lawson Leadership Institute endowed scholarship, initially set at $100,000, as well as the naming of “Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church Way” along the Tiger Walk. The street sign will be placed in the vicinity the H&PE Arena, which is now located where the Lawson family lived in the 1950s and 60s.
Albert Myres, Chair of the TSU Board of Regents, was instrumental in making the event a reality.
“It is so important that this university, at this time, for the right reason, honor Rev. Lawson today,” said Myres. “I wanted this event to happen as fast as it could. We needed to do this now. We have to honor those while we can, while they can appreciate it and taste it.”
The Convocation also included musical performances by the TSU Concert Chorale and University Band, and special remarks from each of the Lawson daughters. They recalled memories of growing up in the midst of TSU – and how the life and growth of the church was closely intertwined with that of the university.
“This is the university where he planted his church, his family and his community,” said Cheryl Lawson. Added Melanie, “Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and TSU have been neighbors and allies for almost 60 years.”
“Daddy established a neighborly and harmonious relationship with TSU,” said Roxanne. “He went out of his way to meet, greet and keep good rapport with every TSU president since 1955.”
Lawson served as the director of the Baptist Student Union and was a professor of Bible at Texas Southern University from 1960-70, during which he also founded Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. He also became a civil rights leader and befriended Martin Luther King Jr, who would stay with the Lawsons during visits to Houston.
At the tribute luncheon, President Crumpton-Young bestowed the President’s Award for People Who Mean Business to Rev. Lawson.
“It is a coveted award,” said Dr. Crumpton-Young. “We don’t give very many out, so we are very excited to present it today. I can think of no one more deserving of this honor than Rev. Lawson.”