‘Just a gentle giant’ | Former neighbor of Rev. Bill Lawson remembers his life and legacy

Clarice Freeman, widow of legendary Texas Southern University debate coach Dr. Thomas Freeman, lived next door to Rev. Bill Lawson and his family in the 60s.

HOUSTON — The late Reverend William Lawson is remembered in part for his love of Houston and passion for building bridges. The city now benefits from his nearly 70 years of service.

Lawson founded Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in the 1960s. In that same decade, he moved next door to the Freeman’s.

Many people are familiar with the legendary Texas Southern University debate coach Dr. Thomas Freeman.  His widow, Clarice Freeman, is just shy of her 104th birthday and remembers Bill Lawson as a gentle giant.

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Clarice Freeman and her late husband raised their family in Houston’s Third Ward. Their immediate next-door neighbors in the 60s were Rev. Lawson, his wife Audrey and daughter Melanie.

“We’ve always been very very close. We’re like family. Our kids grew up together,” Clarice Freeman said.

At 103 years old her mind is still sharp, and like many around Houston, learned the devastating news.

“Bill is always on the front page and I thought what is he up to now. I was shocked,” she said. 

Rev. Lawson, along with the late Dr. Freeman were powerful voices. They connected through that and ministry. 

Clarice Freeman remembers with backing from his late wife Audrey, Lawson stepped into a vital role, advocating and pushing for civil rights.

“I noticed in all of the write-ups about Bill and his life here, they did not go far enough back,” she said.

She said before Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church opened up, Wheeler Avenue was open to traffic right through the center of TSU. Prior to moving next door, Lawson lived and pastored there under the Baptist Student Union.

“Bill. He was just a gentle giant you might say. I loved Bill,” Clarice Freeman said.

Clarice Freeman said it was common in those days for people to drive through throwing things and shouting racist epithets. Fed-up students turned to Lawson.

“They were not going to continue to be satisfied with the status quo,” she said.

She said Lawson, with help from leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, helped turn the tide in Houston. They helped quietly and calmly usher in desegregation. 

While Lawson is no longer here, his legacy lives on. Freeman believes he knew that and urges everyone to build their legacy.

“You never know what your present wherever you might be you never know how that might change somebody’s life,” she said.

Katiera Winfrey on social media: Facebook | X | Instagram

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