A true Houston icon and civil rights champion had a birthday to remember, as the legendary Rev. William A. Lawson recently turned 90 years.
Hundreds of people came out this past Saturday, June 30th to shower Rev. Lawson with tons of love and appreciation at the church he and his wife founded nearly 56 years ago – Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.
Rev. Lawson is a true pillar in the Greater Houston community and has led the fight for equality and moving the city of Houston forward for decades. He has been a community leader to several generations and is still considered one of the key voices regarding critical issues in the Greater Houston area.
Rev. Lawson was born on June 28, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, and raised by Walter and Clarisse Lawson in Kansas City, Kansas. He graduated from Summer High School in 1946, and went on to earn a B.A. degree from Tennessee A&I State University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1950. He returned to Kansas City and went on to graduate from Central Baptist Theological Seminary in 1955, where he received Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees.
While studying at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, he married Audrey Lawson on January 30, 1954. The couple eventually moved to Houston after his graduation from seminary. Rev. Lawson took on the role as director of the Baptist Student Union and Professor of Bible at Texas Southern University (TSU). After serving in that position for ten years, from 1960 to 1970, Rev. Lawson became the director of Upward Bound, a pre-college program for high school students on the TSU campus. During his years working at TSU, a number of neighborhood residents persuaded Rev. Lawson and his wife to establish a church near TSU, which they did. The couple founded Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church with 13 members in their home in June of 1962.
While at TSU, Rev. Lawson also helped build the first Afro-American Studies Program at the University of Houston and taught classes in sociology and on the Black Church. He was heavily involved with the Civil Rights Movement, whether it was supporting 14 students from TSU who held a sit-in protesting segregation at a lunch counter to being one of the only ministers to invite Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to come to Houston to speak at his church in 1963.
Early in his young career, Rev. Lawson was also one of the primary contributing writers at the Forward Times newspaper, touching on major issues and addressing them with a spiritual and social outlook. Lawson headed the Houston chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for over three decades. In 1968, he received his honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Howard Payne University and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Houston in 1993 and an honorary degree from Texas Southern University.
Rev. Lawson is also the author of Lawson’s Leaves of Love: Daily Meditations, which was published in 2004.
In honor of his dedication to the Greater Houston area, a group of close friends gifted to Rev. Lawson a non-profit organization called the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace & Prosperity in 1996, giving him the ability to focus on and bring attention to several key issues and needs in the city. Through WALIPP, Rev. Lawson was able to found the WALIPP Preparatory Academy for Boys, which was the first charter school created for 6th through 8th grade boys in the U.S. He also helped build a Seniors Residence facility for independent-living adults, which are 50 units of apartments for seniors in Houston’s Third Ward, providing affordable housing for the elderly. He has also spearheaded several other major socially-driven causes through the WALIPP organization.
After growing the congregation to over 15,000 members, Rev. Lawson retired as senior pastor of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in August 2004, but still serves as Pastor Emeritus.
The Forward Times wishes to extend birthday greetings to Rev. William A. Lawson on his 90th birthday celebration. The city of Houston and the Forward Times truly appreciates you!