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Rev. William Lawson, Civil Rights Icon and Spiritual Leader, Passes at 95

Rev. William Lawson

Was Friend of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Rev. William “Bill” Lawson, the esteemed civil rights leader and close ally of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, died in Houston. He was 95.
The Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church of the Third Ward, he founded, in that Texas city, announced on its website that he died on Tuesday.
“He has completed his time of service here on earth and is now enjoying eternal rest,” the church said in its announcement.

Rev. Lawson founded Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in 1962 and served as its pastor for 42 years before retiring in 2004. He remained active in his church and the community after retirement, specifically advocating for affordable housing for seniors and developing a public defender service for residents who unable to afford legal representation. Rev. Lawson started the church in his home with 13 members. Currently, the church membership is at 12,000.
He worked with King during the civil rights movement by setting up the local office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization that was led by King.
William Lawson recalled how he offered to play host to King at his church when others would not after the FBI wrongly accused King of being a communist.

“I told his staff I don’t have a big church. But he’s perfectly welcomed to come to my church, and he came to Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and he preached there,” Rev. Lawson said.
Both men remained close friends until King’s assassination in 1968.

Community leaders in Houston praised Lawson and his legacy on Tuesday.
“He is one of the reasons why our city is so great. He helped us during the period of civil rights and social justice,” Mayor John Whitmire said. “Houston benefited from his leadership, his character.”

Rodney Ellis, Commissioner of Harris County, said although Houston mourns his loss, “we celebrate a legacy that will guide us for generations to come.”
Memorial services celebrating Lawson’s life were set to be held at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church on May 23 and May 24.


— From NBC’s Houston affiliate and other media sources

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