Lacey Kirk Williams was the President of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., from 1922 to 1940 and Vice President of the World Baptist Alliance between 1928 and 1940. He also succeeded in creating an interracial alliance which he called a “cooperative” between the wealthy American Baptists, a white denomination, and the National Baptist Convention which greatly contributed to the latter’s growth and the black community as a whole. Williams was President of the National Baptist Convention when he died in a plane crash in 1940 on his way to deliver a speech in Flint, Michigan.
Williams was born to a former slave couple, Levi and Elizabeth Williams, on the Shorter Plantation near Eufaula, Alabama. His family migrated to Texas in 1878. He received his education at Bishop College in Texas and Arkansas Baptist College and was ordained to ministry in 1894 at the Thankful Baptist Church in Pitt Bridge, Texas. The same year he was married to Georgia Lewis and they had one son together. Williams became the pastor of the Mt. Gilead Baptist Church in Ft. Worth in 1910 and soon afterwards was elected president of the Texas Baptist State Convention.
In 1916, Williams became pastor of the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago. Mt. Olivet grew rapidly in the next decade partly because of the massive migration of African Americans from the South to Chicago beginning in World War I. Williams was also a dynamic, activist pastor whose style appealed to many of the newcomers. Under his leadership Mt. Olivet Baptist Church became the largest African American church in Chicago and one of the largest Baptist churches in the United States.
In 1922, Williams became President of the National Baptist Convention. Before being elected, he had taken the lead in building a new publishing house for the denomination in Nashville, Tennessee which was finally completed in 1925. He also directed the mission program, sending 32 missionaries including 11 medical missionaries to Africa.
The financial and other contributions from the interracial cooperative which Williams set up and his own evangelism helped bring unprecedented growth to the National Baptist Convention during the 1920s. His success led to his appointment as Vice President to the World Baptist Alliance in 1928. Rev. Lacey Kirk Williams gave his last major address in Birmingham at the annual meeting of the National Baptist Convention just a few weeks before the tragic plane crash.