Rotary Club of Houston Martin Luther King Day
Speaker: Rev. William A. Lawson
Thursday, January 14, 2016
William A. Lawson is the founding pastor of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. He is now retired from that position.
Lawson was born in St. Louis, Mo., and reared by Walter and Clarisse Lawson Cade in Kansas City, Kansas, where he graduated from Sumner High School (1946). He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at Tennessee A. & I. State University in Nashville (1950). He returned to Kansas City to attend Central Baptist Theological Seminary, which conferred upon Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees.
While in seminary, he was married-61 years-to the love of his life, the late Audrey H. Lawson of St. Louis. The Lawson’s have four children. Melanie Lawson, Cheryl Lawson, Eric Lawson and Roxanne Lawson. Son-in-laws are John Guess and Thomas Carter. Grandchildren are Robyn Troup and Raven Troup, and grandson-in-law is Alex Koby.
Rev. Lawson came to Houston after graduation from seminary 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. During his years at TSU, a number of residents of the neighborhood persuaded the Lawson’s to establish a church near the university. Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church was established in their home in June, 1962. The congregation has grown to over 5,000 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.  Rev. Lawson was a central figure in working with Dr. Martin Luther King to turn around the Houston community during those tumultuous years.
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 has gone before public officials and bodies on behalf of the underclasses, and now has established a middle school for boys, chartered it as a public school with the Houston Independent School District so it would be accessible to low-income families, and this year has risen to the second highest ranking among public secondary schools. WALIPP has also constructed 50 units of apartments for seniors in Houston’s Third Ward. Finally, the agency is pulling together community development groups, churches, civic clubs, and local governments to redevelop the Third Ward so that aggressive real estate development will not expel all who need affordable housing.
He has received honorary doctorates from Howard Payne College in Brownwood, the University of Houston, and Texas Southern University. He is the author of a book of meditations called Lawson’s Leaves of Love.