Williams, Lacey Kirk (1871–1940)

By: William E. Montgomery

Type: Biography

Published: October 1, 1995

Updated: March 31, 2021

Lacey Kirk Williams, teacher, Baptist minister, and Black leader, son of Levi and Elizabeth (Hill) Williams, was born near Eufaula, Barbour County, Alabama, on July 11, 1871. Williams's father, convinced that there was more opportunity for advancement in the West than in Alabama, moved the family to Burleson County, Texas, when Lacey Kirk Williams was six years old. Young Williams attended the River Lane public school in Pitt Bridge. At sixteen he left home and worked in Belton and in Waco, and in 1890 he was certified to teach. During the 1890s he taught in rural schools around Caldwell, including the River Lane school, where he became principal. On August 16, 1894, he married one of his pupils, Georgia Lewis; they had one son. Also in 1894, Williams was ordained as a Baptist minister. His first pastorate was in a rural church near Bryan, but he was soon called to the Thankful Baptist Church in Pitt Bridge. Williams moved on quickly to churches in Caldwell, La Grange, Temple, and Navasota. In 1902 he enrolled in Bishop College in Marshall. While still a student he became pastor of Bethesda Church. In 1907 he became pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Dallas and in 1909 moved to Mount Gilead Baptist Church in Fort Worth. In 1913 he received a B.A. degree from Arkansas Baptist College. He received an honorary D.D. degree from Selma University in Selma, Alabama, in 1914, and an LL.D. degree from Bishop College in 1927.

As a Baptist minister, Williams was affiliated with the Lincoln Association and the Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention. When a schism in the convention was caused by ministers who objected to the convention's continued acceptance of northern White Baptist control of local Black colleges, Williams remained with the convention, even though his father and the Lincoln Association were among the seceders. Indeed, he became a prominent official in the convention and served as its president until his departure from Texas in 1916 to become pastor of Chicago's Olivet Baptist Church-with 12,000 members the largest Black church in the country. After the Chicago race riot of 1919, Illinois governor Frank Lowden appointed Williams to the Chicago Inter-Racial Commission, a special commission to study race problems in the city. Williams was active in politics as a Republican and remained loyal to the Republican party through the party realignment of the 1930s. In 1922 Williams was elected president of the National Baptist Convention, and in 1928 he became vice president of the Baptist World Alliance. Williams was the president of the Victory Life Insurance Company in Chicago in the 1920s and lectured in the Chicago area at the divinity schools of the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and the Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 1928 he received the Harmon Foundation prize for distinguished religious service, a national award. Williams died on October 29, 1940, in the crash of a chartered airplane carrying him and another Chicago minister to a Republican rally for Wendell Willkie in Flint, Michigan. He was buried in Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago.

Chicago Defender, August 12, 1916, November 9, 16, 1940. Lillian B. Horace, Crowned with Glory and Honor: The Life of Rev. Lacey Kirk Williams (Hicksville, New York: Exposition, 1978). Who's Who in Colored America (1940).

  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Architecture
  • Architects
  • Visual Arts
  • Religion
  • Baptist
Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

William E. Montgomery, “Williams, Lacey Kirk,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 10, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/williams-lacey-kirk.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995
March 31, 2021

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