William E. Lawson
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William E. Lawson


Private practice and Kirwood Hospital


William E. Lawson

Dr. William Emmett Lawson was born in Detroit on November 24, 1922. He is the second child of Dr. William H. Lawson and Florence E. Lewis Lawson. His father, a 1912 graduate of the Toronto School of Optometry in Toronto, Canada, was the first black optometrist in the United States and Canada. He graduated from Northwestern High School in 1940 and entered the Northern Illinois College of Optometry.

Graduating and passing the State Board examination in 1944 before reaching the age of 21 earned him the distinction of being the youngest optometrist ever licensed at that time. He joined his father's optometry practice, but was soon drafted into the military. He returned to that practice upon his discharge from the military and remained there until his father's death in 1966.

Drs. William E. and William H. Lawson serviced a number of factory workers who made weaponry by furnishing them with specialized glasses necessary to produce precision instruments. He has continued his advanced training in optometry, concentrating in the areas of contact lens and the effects of various types of corrective lens, as well as pharmacology and the management of ocular diseases using prescription drugs.

In 1969, he was a founding member of the Optometric Institute and Clinic of Detroit, which serves the underprivileged.

Dr. Lawson's civic involvement has been extensive. In 1949, he co-founded the Cotillion Club. The Cotillion Club was successful in boycotting businesses such as the Automobile Association of America, which would only write policies for black car owners if they were sponsored by a white person. The Club established the first voter registration week in Detroit. The Club was also interested in the lack of mixed crews and promotions of black police officers and met with the police commissioner about these issues.

In 1970, Dr. Lawson was a founding member of the group of business and professional blacks that established the First Independence National Bank of Detroit. In 1977, he was affiliated with the Downtown Development Authority Broadway-Randolph Merchants Association. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

Tape recorded interview;
Detroit, MI
8 September  1998
audio clip

Dr. Lawson discusses the establishment of the Optometric Institute and Center of Detroit

Some 30 some years ago, we felt there was a need to have a clinic for the underprivileged people. You had dental clinics. They had medical clinics. So, we established the Optometric Institute and Center of Detroit. And we did that for that particular purpose. We had a lot of problems because [we] did not get the funding. In fact, I was before the United Foundation-I was president of the clinic and I put the appeal in-and the guy [at the meeting] said, "Wait just a minute. Before you start, I'm going to tell you something. We're not going to give you a dime." I felt like somebody had shot me between my eyes because he told me point blank: "Go ahead and make your presentation, but we're not giving you a dime." I don't know whether he expected us to run or not. But, we kept going and a year later we got some money and we've been getting it from them ever since.


William G. Anderson
Reginald P. Ayala
Arthur W Boddie
Wilma Brakefield-Caldwell
Henry C. Bryant Jr.
Alice Burton
Waldo L. Cain
James W. Collins
Claude and Vivienne Cooper
Gladys B. Dillard
George Gaines Jr.
Leon Gant
Herman J. Glass Sr.
Della Goodwin
Joseph B. Harris
Frank P. Iacobell
Horace L. Jefferson
Sidney B. Jenkins
Arthur Johnson
Rachel B. Keith
William E. Lawson
Josephine Love
Hayward Maben Jr.
Berna C. Mason
Suesetta T. McCree
Dorothy Mottley
David C. Northcross Jr.
Ophelia B. Northcross
Marjorie Peebles-Meyers
Frank P. Raiford III
Garther Roberson Jr.
S. L. Roberson
Elsie Smith
Fannie L. Starks
Lionel F. Swan
Natalia M. Tanner
Oretta Mae Todd
I. Clara Webb
Charles F. Whitten
Charles H. Wright
Watson Young


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Copyright , Kellogg African American Health Care Project, 2000.
Text and images may not be used without the permission of the Kellogg African American Health Care Project.