Archdiocese remembers Houston civil rights icon Rev. Lawson, longtime friend of Archbishop Fiorenza

May 24, 2024

Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, Rabbi Samuel Karff and Rev. William Lawson cut a dedication ribbon to celebrate the opening of the Brigitte and Bashar Kalai Plaza of Respect at Interfaith Ministries in Midtown in April 2019. The plaza features towering tributes to the three men. (Photo by Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston)

HOUSTON — Houston icon Reverend William “Bill” Alexander Lawson Jr. died Tuesday, May 14, at the age of 95.

The founder of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston’s Third Ward, along with the late Rabbi Samuel Karff of Congregation Beth Israel and the late Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, was a champion of civil rights and a bold preacher of God’s love in action, said Daniel Cardinal DiNardo.

Celebration of Life services were held May 23 and 24 at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston. 

At Rev. Lawson's funeral service May 24, Cardinal DiNardo lauded the Baptist leader for his commitment to the Gospel and the people of Houston and beyond.

“As Jesus reminds us in the gospel of St. Matthew, if you have faith, nothing will be impossible,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “We are here today to remember and celebrate a man who had faith, faith in Jesus Christ that permeated every fiber of his being and made its way out into the streets of Houston. Rev. Lawson was a man of faith, and because of that commitment to the gospel, what seemed impossible miraculously became possible. He became an effective gospel agent of justice.”

“As a young man shepherding a small congregation, Rev. Lawson faced the challenges of his time in a unique way,” Cardinal DiNardo continued. “While the world around him was in turmoil, Rev. Lawson brought to it all a sense of calm, a sense of stability, of equanimity, and good humor. Through careful and brilliant application, he brought about titanic changes in the life of our community for the better here in this city. His legacy as a leader of civil rights will continue to benefit all Houstonians, not just for some years, but for generations to come.”

Affectionately called the “Three Amigos,” the trio met during a coalition meeting of “Ministers of Houston,” an ecumenical coalition group that sought to unite Houston’s diverse faith leaders and communities. The three men had an extended history in Houston marching, preaching, protesting, teaching and influencing together for civil rights and social justice.

Reflecting on their long-held collaboration, Cardinal DiNardo said "their close friendships simply Bill, Joe, and Sam when they got together is a testament from which we can all draw inspiration. Despite their theological differences and nuances, they rallied around personal comradery and a commitment to seeing a society oriented toward justice, serving the homeless, establishing a public defender's office, encouraging voter registration, serving the poor, promoting education, and securing services for the elderly, or all areas in which they improve the lives of so many."

A special monument, the Brigitte and Bashar Kalai Plaza of Respect at Interfaith Ministries in Midtown, honors the lives and legacy of the three men through three towering tributes that feature speeches from each of them. It opened in April 2019.

In closing, Cardinal DiNardo said, "May their memories be a blessing for all, and in the words of our own Catholic tradition, may eternal rest be granted to Rev. Lawson and may perpetual light shine upon him, and let us all commit ourselves to the work of Christ just as Rev. Lawson did every day."