Black History

Index for Black History



William H. Lewis

William Lewis was an African-American pioneer in law, politics and sports.

He was born November 28, 1868 and died on January 1, 1949.

He was born in Berkley, Virginia. He was a son of former slaves.

William went to an all black college, Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute. It's name was later changed to Virginia State. He later transferred to Amherst. He was the first to play on an integrated football team.

He was the first African-American college football player .William was voted team captain in his senior year.

He was also the first African-American to be an All American.

After graduating from Amherst, William Lewis went attended the Harvard Law School. He also played center on the Harvard football team for two years. In both years at Harvard he was voted as an All American.

When he graduated from Harvard, he was hired as a football coach. He was a coach there from 1895-1906.

William published a book about football "A Primer of College Football."

William Lewis


In 1899 he began his political career by running for the Cambridge City Council. Where he served from 1889-1902. He also served in the Massachusetts Legislature in 1903.

Lewis became friends with Teddy Roosevelt who also attended Harvard.

In 1903, at the direction of Roosevelt, Lewis was appointed as an Assistant United States Attorney. the first He was African-American that position. 

In October 1910, President William Howard Taft appointed Lewis as the United States Assistant Attorney General. It was the highest federal office held by an African-American at that time.

His appointment was not popular with many whites. It was two years before the Senate confirmed his appointment.

After he was sworn in Lewis went to the White House to thank President Taft for his appointment. He was a frequent guest at social events at in the White House.

In 1911, Lewis became the first African American admitted to the American Bar Association. (Some people wanted to expel him due to race, but 4,700 members of the ABA, including U.S. Attorney General Wickersham, sent a letter of support of his joining the Association.

When Taft left office in 1913, Lewis lost his federal job. He then went to work practicing law.

William was active in fighting against discrimination. He sued a barber that wouldn't cut his hair and gave speeches at numerous colleges and events.

William H. Lewis died on January1, 1949 of heart failure. He is buried in the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge Massachusetts.







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This page was last updated on March 2, 2013