Note: We are recycling this post from 2015 in honor of African American History Month and Library Lovers Month.
The Houston Public Library is saddened to hear of the passing of Audrey Hoffman Lawson on December 12, 2015 at the age of 83.
In 1962, Rev. & Mrs. Lawson founded the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in their home. Founded during the Civil Rights movement, the Lawson’s were known as advocates for African Americans, for Hispanics, for women, and for the poor. Mrs. Lawson worked with the Texas Southern University Baptist Student Union and is considered the “first lady” of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. She was dedicated to the creation of programs and services for children, including the founding of a Boy Scout troop that has produced an amazing 170 Eagle Scouts.
In addition to being devoted to their congregation and their community, the Lawsons were also devoted to one another. Their love story spanned over 60 years and started with a single letter from a girl then named Audrey Hoffman. The love letters, which detail her courtship with Reverend Bill Lawson, will continue to be preserved and honored at the Houston Public Library and a complete digital copy of those letters can be found in the Houston Area Digital Archives so that all can read them: https://cdm17006.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/search/searchterm/letters
At the time of donation, Rev. and Mrs. Lawson gave the library the following description of their courtship:
"These three volumes tell the story of a courtship that began between two people who had never seen each other, and lasted for fifty-six years. Most people know this couple as Rev. William and Mrs. Audrey Hoffman Lawson. Audrey wrote to William on a dare in the women's dormitory at Tennessee State University. He had graduated from Tennessee State, and she transferred there from Stowe Teachers' College in St. Louis after he had left. So she hadn't a clue who this alumnus was. But he was writing to some of the girls in Hayes Hall, the women's dormitory.
One night when they were sharing a letter from him, Audrey remarked that she liked the letters, and that she might write to him. One of the girls dared her to do it, and on that dare she wrote a first letter. This was over half a century before Facebook! William (or 'Bill,' as he is more popularly known) wrote back to this unknown TSU student, and that started a correspondence that soon became daily. Their epistolary dialogue started out platonic, but warmed up until Bill realized he was falling in love with this faceless young woman. They had not even exchanged pictures, although they had become fairly constant in corresponding. They were both from St. Louis, and under the rather shaky pretext that he needed to visit his relatives, Bill took a trip to St. Louis. Of course, he visited the Hoffman home, and when she came to the door, she was dressed in a bright red corduroy suit. This was the first sight he had ever had of her, and they chatted for two or three hours. That first vision of Audrey led Bill to nickname her 'Little Red.' The two saw each other only nine times during the nearly two years of their daily letters to each other -- never for more than two days at a summer camp, where he proposed to her, never alone with each other. The ninth time was their wedding, Saturday, January 30, 1954. Want to know how old fashioned they were? After Bill proposed to her at that summer camp, he asked her father if they could be married. Because red had become the color with which he had indelibly labeled her, the engagement ring he gave to her featured a ruby surrounded by diamonds. On that day, she had all of her bridesmaids in pink dresses with rose-colored sashes. And since that day, roses and rubies and other red items have been part of his gifts to her.
The bindings of these volumes (skillfully crafted by Charlie Arbore, a volunteer in the Houston Public Library) are significantly made of red fabric. Audrey and Bill hope you enjoy reading this courtship through letters that preceded a long and happy marriage. Can you imagine a fifty-six year love partnership started by a college girl taking a dare? God works in mysterious ways!"
-- Audrey Hoffman Lawson and William "Bill" Lawson