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Reverend Bill Lawson

Reverend William Lawson is a retired pastor and the namesake of an Institute focused on helping the community. He was born on June 28, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri to Walter and Clarisse Lawson. Raised in Kansas City, Kansas, Lawson attended Summer High School and graduated with his B.A. degree from Tennessee A and I state University in 1950. While at Central Baptist Theological Seminary he married Audrey Lawson. He then graduated in 1955 and received his Master of Theology and his Bachelor of Divinity degrees majoring in New Testament Interpretation while holding an appointment as a Teaching Fellow in Homiletics.

From 1960 to 1970, Lawson served as the director of the Baptist Student Union and a professor of Bible at Texas Southern University. While at Texas Southern University, Lawson helped build the first Afro-American Studies Program at the University of Houston and taught classes in sociology and the Black Church. His involvement with the Civil Rights Movement began when fourteen TSU students held a sit-in protesting segregation at a lunch counter. After founding the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, Lawson invited the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at his church in 1963. Lawson served as a pastor for over thirty years. In honor of his dedication to the community, the community created a non-profit organization called the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity. Through the organization, Lawson brought attention to the oldest African American cemetery in Houston, helped created The Main Street Coalition, and founded the WALIPP Preparatory Academy for boys. The Academy was the first charter school created for boys grades six through eight in the U.S. The Institute also houses a Seniors Residence for independent-living adults.

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 in 1993 he received his honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Houston. For his outstanding work with the Boy Scouts and his organization of the area’s largest scouting program, in 1991 Lawson was given the Silver Beaver Award. Lawson is also the author of Lawson’s Leaves of Love: Daily Meditations, published in 2004.

William A. Lawson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 11, 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.010

Sex

Male

Interview Date

5/11/2010

Last Name

Lawson

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

A.

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Tennessee State University

Central Baptist Theological Seminary

Sumner Academy of Arts and Science

Frederick Douglass High School

Northeast Junior High School

First Name

William

Birth City, State, Country

St. Louis

HM ID

LAW02

State

Missouri

Favorite Vacation Destination

Close to Home

Favorite Quote

It Is What It Is.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Texas

Interview Description
Birth Date

6/28/1928

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Houston

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Steak

Short Description

Pastor Reverend Bill Lawson (1928 - ) was the founding pastor of the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and the namesake of the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace & Prosperity. He was a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement in Houston, Texas.

Employment

Texas Southern University

Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church

William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Reverend Bill Lawson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Reverend Bill Lawson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Reverend Bill Lawson describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Reverend Bill Lawson remembers his early household

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Reverend Bill Lawson describes his early religious experiences and family gatherings

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Reverend Bill Lawson remembers his neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Reverend Bill Lawson talks about his early education

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Reverend Bill Lawson reflects upon the Great Depression

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Reverend Bill Lawson describes his experiences at Northeast Junior High School in Kansas City, Kansas

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Reverend Lawson recalls adjusting to his new stepfamily

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Reverend Bill Lawson talks about his relationship with his step siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Reverend Bill Lawson describes his conversion to the Baptist faith

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Reverend Bill Lawson talks about the history of the Baptist church

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Reverend Bill Lawson describes his experiences at Northeast Junior High School in Kansas City, Kansas

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Reverend Bill Lawson remembers his experiences at Sumner High School in Kansas City, Kansas

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Reverend Bill Lawson recalls his decision to attend the Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Reverend Bill Lawson describes his social activities at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Reverend Bill Lawson remembers his experiences as a junior preacher

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Reverend Bill Lawson recalls attending the Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Reverend Bill Lawson describes his early career as a pastor

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Reverend Bill Lawson remembers his introduction to the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Reverend Bill Lawson describes his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Reverend Bill Lawson recalls his work with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Reverend Bill Lawson recalls founding the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Reverend Bill Lawson describes the programs at the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Reverend Bill Lawson talks about the Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston in Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Reverend Bill Lawson describes his efforts to obtain a public defender for Harris County, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Reverend Bill Lawson talks about his retirement

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Reverend Bill Lawson describes his concerns for the African American community

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Reverend Bill Lawson reflects upon his life

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Reverend Bill Lawson describes his children and grandchildren

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Reverend Bill Lawson talks about Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s role in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Reverend Bill Lawson describes his spiritual philosophy

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Reverend Bill Lawson remembers his calling to the ministry

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Reverend Bill Lawson talks about the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity in Houston, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Reverend Bill Lawson reflects upon his life and legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Reverend Bill Lawson shares a message to future generations

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Bill Lawson narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Reverend Bill Lawson narrates his photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$3

DAStory

1$3

DATitle
Reverend Bill Lawson remembers his introduction to the Civil Rights Movement
Reverend Bill Lawson recalls his work with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Transcript
So what year do you finish your master's and bachelor of divinity?$$Nineteen fifty-five [1955]. At this time Audrey [Audrey Hoffman Lawson] and I are married and we live in the seminary dormitory [at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Shawnee, Kansas] for that first year.$$(OFF CAMERA DISCUSSION)$$Now 1955, civil rights is starting to heat up a little bit, things are going on. Claudette Colvin and the bus rides and Rosa Parks comes right behind that, what's going on? You, your, you live in Pittsburg [Kansas] until, until what--until '55 [1955]?$$Until '55 [1955].$$And then you move where?$$(Cough) Move to Houston [Texas]--$$Houston, okay.$$--and came to Texas Southern [Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas].$$Tell me about the civil rights time in Houston at that time. Were you involved at all?$$Not originally. I was Baptist and fairly well Southern Baptist [Southern Baptist Convention] more than I was National Baptist [National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.]. I was National Baptist, but was pretty well Southern Baptist and we simply did not get involved in stuff like that. But I'm called now to Houston and came to Houston on August 28th, 1955. And the reason that I can remember that so well was that--that--that was the day when a young fellow, Emmett Till, was killed in Mississippi. And that probably was the real beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, not Rosa Parks so much, but the killing of Emmett Till which raised the level of anger in our community. And so Rosa Parks made her first bus ride in 1955, December 1955. So I'm here when all that is going on, but I'm fairly well insulated from that by, by the notion that Baptist remain religious and did not get involved in civil unrest. But I'm a student chaplain on the campus of Texas Southern University and the unrest of the--of the Civil Rights Movement is growing among students. And, and I can remember that one night a group of students came by the Baptist Student Center which is where we worked and lived, and they said, "Reverend Lawson [HistoryMaker Reverend Bill Lawson], we would like to go down and, and protest and sit-in at a lunch counter. Can you direct us." And that threw me for a loop and I tried to tell them, "Now your mother sent you to college so that you can get an education. You don't need to get beaten up and be thrown in jail behind the Civil Rights Movement." And, and so while I'm trying to argue with them about that. They're saying to me flatfooted, "If you won't give us direction then, then we'll find somebody else who will." They walked out of the Baptist Student Center and left me standing there. In the next hour, they were down at a local supermarket that had some lunch counters. They sat in at these lunch counters and they were thrown in jail. I believe that there were seven seats and the students went in seven at a time knowing that they were going to be jailed. And then when the first seven were taken away, then the next seven went in. And Audrey and I were introduced to the Civil Rights Movement, first of all by our--by our bewilderment by the determination of these students, and secondly by the fact that somebody had to get them out of jail. And she and a couple of neighbors on that street and I went out raising money to bail these kids out. That was how we began our involvement in civil rights. After that we did become involved in civil rights, but it started then.$Let me add one thing, Dr. Martin Luther King [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.] came to Houston [Texas] and he came to Houston to raise money for SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference]. He brought with him [HistoryMaker] Harry Belafonte and Aretha Franklin, [HistoryMaker] Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson [HistoryMaker Reverend Jesse L. Jackson], the number of celebrity types that he brought with him, and they were going to have a concert in Houston to raise funds for SCLC. And this was my first time to see how black Baptist preachers treated Dr. King. I had--hadn't really known about it except having heard about it. But that term persona non grata fitted him. There was virtually not a Baptist preacher in Houston who would let him into their pulpit. So, so we invited him into the Wheeler Avenue [Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, Houston, Texas] pulpit. There was another Baptist preacher and there was a Methodist preacher--two other Baptist preachers and a Methodist preacher and I who did accept King, and we felt all alone. But we went with him down to the coliseum [Sam Houston Coliseum, Houston, Texas] which is where the concert was to have been held and there were far too few of us down there. And then somebody put a smoke bomb in the air conditioning system and, and many of the people were driven out. King then asked me if I would come to Atlanta [Georgia] to work with him. Our church was then two or three years old, excuse me, so I couldn't very well go to Atlanta and I told him that I'd have to stay here. I had an infant church which would probably die if I just left. And so he said, "Well then, well then will you let Wheeler Avenue be the SCLC chapter in Houston?" And I said, "We can do that." So here I am now as a person who is leading a march against school segregation and now have become the--the leader of an SCLC chapter in Houston. And ultimately when, when King was assassinated in 1968, virtually, virtually everybody idolized him, even the people who, who hadn't liked him began to sing his praises. And now there's probably not a city in the United States that doesn't have a school or a hospital or a street or something named after him. We eulogized him after his death, but he was very definitely ostracized during his life.