Remembering Rev. William A. Lawson: A Legacy of Faith, Justice, and Community

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 5/14/2024, 10:24 a.m.
In Acts 20, the apostle Paul tells ministers to watch over themselves and their flock that God has given to …

photoIn Acts 20, the apostle Paul tells ministers to watch over themselves and their flock that God has given to them. Rev. William Alexander Lawson took this responsibility as a shepherd as his God-given duty. Many across the nation had their lives made better because of Lawson. Not just Houston, but the world, lost a great giant today.

Lawson was 95 years old.

Understanding Lawson as the historic founder of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, one must start at the beginning of his life. Walter and Clarisse Lawson Cade welcomed their baby boy into the world on June 28, 1928, in Kansas City, MO. After his parents divorce, his mother's second husband, Walter Cade, adopted him. From the blended family, Lawson gained two brothers and one sister. He graduated from Summer High School in 1946, then went on to earn a B.A. in Sociology from Tennessee A & I State University in Nashville, TN, in 1950. Lawson heard the call from God to teach His people, so he earned a Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Theology in 1955 from Central Baptist Theological Seminary.



His Entrance into the Civil Rights Movement

photo  Rev. William A. Lawson, Mrs. Audrey Lawson, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others (credit: Facebook)

The Lawsons moved to Houston in 1955 when the Southern Baptist Convention wanted him to work at a new university in Houston. That university was the eight-year-old Texas Southern University. Lawson served as director of the Baptist Student Union and Professor of Bible. During his 10-year tenure, he also became the director of Upward Bound, a program for pre-college students at the university. Beyond his impact at TSU, Lawson crossed the street to the University of Houston to start their first Afro-American Studies Program and teach classes on sociology and the Black Church.

While at TSU, Lawson and his wife became advocates for civil rights after 14 TSU students organized a sit-in to protest segregation at a Weingarten’s supermarket lunch counter. The students were arrested, and the Lawsons made it their mission to raise money for their bail. Lawson further went on to become an influential voice of the civil rights movement, acting as a mediator between white and black business owners, helping to desegregate Houston’s schools and public facilities, and even marching alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He set up the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Houston which allowed him to work closely with Dr. King. His actions opened the door for Houston’s peaceful integration and improved the socio-economic conditions of African Americans and other marginalized communities. Until his dying day, Lawson was still considered one of the most sought-after voices of our time.

The Birth of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church

With a man who stood on faith and believed in peace at the helm, WABC quickly became a vital part of the community. Lawson was a voice of reason that many called on to defuse situations. Members opened their arms and hearts to help others, a purpose that members continue today. From job fairs and food drives to sending supplies across the coast or money across the ocean, WABC’s reach in the community is never too much, just as Lawson designed. Numerous outreach programs were developed for all ages of the membership. The congregation has grown from the first few members to now more than 12,000.



In 2004 after serving as senior pastor of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church for 42 years, Lawson retired in one of the smoothest passings of leadership to a young preacher from Chicago, IL, Rev. Dr. Marcus D. Cosby. As Founding Pastor Emeritus, Lawson continued to be a devoted advocate for education. He was honored in 1996 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.

Even in his later years, Lawson remained an active voice in the community, embodying the role of a mentor and advisor to younger generations of activists and leaders. His legacy is perhaps most visible in the thriving Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, which continues to stand as a monument to his life’s work—a community firmly rooted in faith, hope, and the relentless pursuit of justice.

Lawson was an extraordinary man, authoring several books of meditations, and receiving numerous honorary doctorates.

Rev. William A. Lawson passed away, leaving behind a legacy of profound influence and inspiration. His life’s work continues to inspire those who strive for a more equitable and compassionate world. His story is not just a chronicle of one man’s journey but a beacon of what can be achieved through the power of faith and unwavering commitment to social justice.


On a Personal Note:

I will always remember Rev. Lawson as the towering man who never made a loud sound. I first heard him preach when I was very young. He was unlike any preacher that I had ever previously known. When he preached, he did not yell, hoop, or holler. He spoke in a calm tone with a powerful message. It drew me into his sermons. He spoke in a mild manner, which made me listen harder and really understand the Word. As I grew older, still listening to Lawson, I began to understand the lessons of the Bible more. I loved how he had built the church to be for the community with the "come as you are" open invitation. This opened the door for me to become a professional visitor. Having that door opened allowed me to enjoy some of the youth programs his wife, Audrey Lawson, started. I was a Girl Scout, in the children’s choir, chapel choir, and a praise dancer. I received a scholarship when I graduated high school. Post-college, I came back to work with the communications as a camerawoman. After a while, I started saying I belonged to two churches since I was still also attending and participating in activities at my childhood church. I did change my membership from professional visitor to member. I will always consider it a privilege and honor to have been taught by two legends in ministry, Rev. A. Louis Patterson, Jr. of Mt. Corinth Missionary Baptist Church (my childhood church) and Rev. William A. Lawson. Rest in peace you good and faithful servant.

Final Arrangements as noted by Rev. Dr. Marcus D. Cosby, Senior Pastor, Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church

Reverend Bill Lawson’s body will lie in state from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 23, 2024. The Community Service of Celebration will be held at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 23, 2024 and the Congregational Service of Celebration will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, May 24, 2024. Both services will be held at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, 3826 Wheeler Avenue, Houston, TX 77004.

Our publisher Francis Page, Jr. and the entire staff of Houston Style Magazine mourns with the Lawson family, Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church family, and all who loved and admired Rev. William A. Lawson.

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