William J. Laws, African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) minister, educator, and college president, was born at Frederica, Kent County, Delaware, on February 18, 1847. He grew up in Philadelphia and at age seventeen was a member of the A.M.E. Church in New York City, where he served as a Sunday school teacher and member of the choir. In 1871 he graduated from Lincoln University, where he was the first president of the Philosophian Literary Society.
Laws was ordained a deacon by Bishop J. P. Campbell at the meeting of the New York Annual Conference of the A.M.E. Church. He was later ordained an elder by Bishop James A. Shorter of the A.M.E. Church at Lynn, Massachusetts. The 1880 census listed Laws as living in New Bedford, Massachusetts, with his wife Margaret A. Laws (of New York). It was reported that he was privileged to deliver the address of welcome at the Republican National Convention at Chicago in 1884. Laws served as a minister in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Texas. He was living in Texas by the late 1890s and was appointed to Saint James Church, Dallas, and the Metropolitan Church, Austin. He also held a pastorate in Corsicana. Laws served as a clergy delegate to four sessions of the General Conference of the A.M.E. Church and as the president of Paul Quinn College in Waco. He served as president from approximately 1904 to 1908 and continued as a teacher of theology there for many years until his death. At some point he received a doctor of divinity degree from Guadalupe College in Seguin.
William J. Laws died at his home on the campus of Paul Quinn College in Waco, McLennan County, Texas, on February 25, 1925, and was buried beside his wife, Margaret A. Laws, (1845–1921) at Greenwood Cemetery of Waco.