Rev. Bill Lawson

A giant in the struggle for civil rights, the Rev. William "Bill" Lawson has been one of Houston's most influential leaders for nearly 50 years.

While in seminary, he was married to Audrey H. Lawson of St. Louis. The Lawsons have four children, and celebrated their Diamond (60th) wedding anniversary in January of 2014.

He came to Houston to serve as director of the Baptist Student Union and Professor of Bible at the new (eight years old) 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.

He was launched into the civil rights movement when 14 TSU students conducted a sit-in to protest segregation at a lunch counter. Organizing one of the first protests against segregated schools and registering thousands of black voters, Lawson helped orchestrate the civil rights movement in Houston and even marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

During his years at TSU, a number of residents of the neighborhood persuaded the Lawsons to establish a church near the university. Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church was established in their home in June, 1962 with13 members. The congregation has grown to over 14,000 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, for Hispanics, for women, and for the poor.

Lawson also conceived and organized the United Way's Houston Homeless Initiative with his good friends Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza of the Houston-Galveston Catholic Diocese and Rabbi Samuel Karff of Congregation Beth Israel.  He also chartered the Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapter in Houston and headed the national organization for more than three decades.

In 1996 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 established two single-gender middle schools, chartered by the Texas Education Agency. WALIPP has also constructed an independent living facility for active elders consisting of 50 apartments in Houston’s Third Ward.

Rev. Lawson has received honorary doctorates from Howard Payne College in Brownwood, the University of Houston, Houston Community College and Texas Southern University in Houston. He is the author of a book of meditations called Lawson’s Leaves of Love.