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Rev. William Lawson, a Texas civil rights leader who worked with Martin Luther King Jr., has died at the age of 95

The Rev. William "Bill" Lawson, a longtime pastor and civil rights leader who helped desegregate Houston and worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, has died. He was 95 years old.

The church where Lawson was a longtime resident - Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in this Texas town - announced his death Tuesday on its Web site.

"He has completed his ministry on earth and is now enjoying eternal rest", the church said in a statement.

Lawson founded Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in 1962 and served as its pastor for 42 years before retiring in 2004. He was called the "Pastor of Houston", and continued to be active in the church and community after his retirement.

He worked with King during the civil rights movement, establishing a local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organization that King led.

In an interview in 2021 with his daughter Melanie Lawson, a Houston-based KTRK anchor, William Lawson recalled how he offered to host King at his church when others disagreed, after the FBI falsely accused King of communism.

"I told his staff that I didn't have a big church. But he could very well come to my church, and he came to Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and preached there", Lawson said.

The two men remained close friends until King's assassination in 1968.

On Tuesday, Houston community leaders paid tribute to Lawson and his legacy.

"He is one of the reasons our city is so great. He helped us during a time of struggle for civil rights and social justice", said Mayor John Whitmire, "Houston has benefited from his leadership and character.

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said that while Houston mourns his loss, "we celebrate a legacy that will guide us for generations to come".

Memorial services celebrating Lawson's life will be held at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church on May 23 and 24.

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