The Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is deeply saddened by the death of Reverend William “Bill” Lawson, the beloved civil rights leader. Rev. Lawson passed away at 95 years old on May 14, 2024 in Houston, Texas.

LDF President and Director-Counsel Janai Nelson issued the following statement:

“We mourn the loss of Reverend Bill Lawson, the devoted and trailblazing civil rights icon, and extend our deepest condolences to his loved ones. A benevolent and compassionate advocate, Reverend Lawson worked diligently to advance civil and human rights.

“During his lifetime, Rev. Lawson’s selfless commitment to bettering the world reverberated through and through. At just 27 years old and at a pivotal moment of tension and violence in the Jim Crow South, Rev. Lawson daringly acted to engage communities in need, founding Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston. In close collaboration with other civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he worked boldly in support of desegregation, voting rights, and economic justice. Lovingly remembered as “Houston’s Pastor”, Rev. Lawson’s steadfast leadership largely transformed the city and stood as a brave, praise-worthy example of effecting change through supporting and empowering communities.

“The Legal Defense Fund had the honor of working in close collaboration with Rev. Lawson on behalf of Black voters in Harris County in Houston Lawyers Association v. Mattox (1991). Not only did Rev. Lawson display dedication in this work—he exemplified the power in unifying people to bring about meaningful change.

“Reverend Lawson will be sorely missed, and his indelible legacy as an altruistic, visionary leader will be felt for generations to come.”


Founded in 1940, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is the nation’s first civil rights law organization. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the Legal Defense Fund or LDF. Please note that LDF has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights.