Sunday, October 15, 2017

Richard Wilbur, Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Winner

Richard Wilbur in 2006 in his home at the time in Cummington, Mass. CreditNancy Palmieri/Associated Press
Richard Wilbur, whose meticulous, urbane poems earned him two Pulitzer Prizes and selection as the national poet laureate, died on Saturday in Belmont, Mass. He was 96.
His son Christopher confirmed his death, in a nursing home.
Across more than 60 years as an acclaimed American poet, Mr. Wilbur followed a muse who prized traditional virtuosity over self-dramatization; as a consequence he often found himself out of favor with the literary authorities who preferred the heat of artists like Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg.
He received his first Pulitzer in 1957, and a National Book Award as well, for “Things of This World.” The collection included “A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra,” which the poet and critic Randall Jarrell called “one of the most marvelously beautiful, one of the most nearly perfect poems any American has written.”
In the poem, Mr. Wilbur, observing statuary in a fountain — “showered fauns” — concludes:
They are at rest in fulness of desire
For what is given, they do not tire
Of the smart of the sun, the pleasant water-douse
And riddled pool below,
Reproving our disgust and our ennui
With humble insatiety.
Francis, perhaps, who lay in sister snow
Continue reading the main story
Before the wealthy gate
Freezing and praising, might have seen in this
No trifle, but a shade of bliss —
That land of tolerable flowers, that state
As near and far as grass
Where eyes become the sunlight, and the hand
Is worthy of water: the dreamt land
Toward which all hungers leap, all pleasures pass.
By the early 1960s, however, critical opinion generally conformed to Mr. Jarrell’s oft-quoted assessment that Mr. Wilbur “never goes too far, but he never goes far enough.”
Typical of complaints in this vein was a review by Herbert Leibowitz of Mr. Wilbur’s collection “The Mind-Reader” in The New York Times of June 13, 1976: “While we acknowledge his erudition and urbanity, we regretfully liken his mildness to the amiable normality of the bourgeois citizen.”
But there were many on the other side who objected to the notion that Mr. Wilbur’s poems were somehow unimportant because they were pretty. Jack Butler, for example, a resident of Okolona, Ark., wrote a letter to the editor in response to Mr. Leibowitz’s review, remarking, “Sirs, the man has had a feast set before him, the very best, and complains because it is not a peanut butter and ketchup sandwich.”
Mr. Wilbur sailed on regardless of which way the wind blew. He won a second Pulitzer in 1988, for “New and Collected Poems”; became the second poet laureate of the United States, succeeding Robert Penn Warren, in 1987-88; and won many other awards over the years, including the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2006, when he was 85. In all, he produced nine volumes of poems and several children’s books, which he himself illustrated.
He was also an esteemed translator of poems and other works from the French, Spanish and Russian, including the plays of Molière and Racine.
Frank Rich, then The Times’s chief theater critic, wrote in 1982 that Wilbur’s adaptations of Molière comedies like “Tartuffe,” “The Misanthrope” and “The School for Wives” were “beautiful works of art in themselves — Mr. Wilbur’s lighter-than-air verse upholds the idiom and letter of Molière, yet it also satisfies the demands of the stage.”
Mr. Wilbur wrote lyrics for opera and musical theater productions, too; among them, Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide.”
Mr. Wilbur served three bloody years as a combat soldier in Europe in World War II, an experience that some critics thought might be a clue to the orderly, generally optimistic nature of his work. Perhaps “the utter disparity between what he saw and what he wished to see made him run for cover,” the poet and scholar John Reibetanz wrote. Mr. Wilbur dismissed this explanation.
“I feel that the universe is full of glorious energy,” he said in an interview with The Paris Review, “that the energy tends to take pattern and shape, and that the ultimate character of things is comely and good. I am perfectly aware that I say this in the teeth of all sorts of contrary evidence, and that I must be basing it partly on temperament and partly on faith, but that’s my attitude.”
Richard Purdy Wilbur was born in New York City, on March 1, 1921. When he was 2, his family moved to rural North Caldwell, N.J., and rented a pre-revolutionary stone house on a 500-acre private estate.
Roaming the woods and fields with his younger brother, Lawrence, Richard absorbed lessons of the natural world that would later fit easily into his poems. At home, immersion in books and the arts was a fact of everyday life. His father, Lawrence Lazear Wilbur, was a portrait painter. His mother, the former Helen Purdy, came from a family of journalists: Her father had been an editor of The Baltimore Sun, and her paternal grandfather an itinerate publisher and editor who founded several Democratic newspapers across the country.
Mr. Wilbur went to Amherst College in 1938, where he contributed poems, essays and cartoons to the campus newspaper and magazine. In 1942 he married Charlotte Ward and got his bachelor’s degree, and it seemed to him that he might become a journalist and write poems as a diversion.
First, though, there was the war. He had wanted to serve as an Army cryptographer but was denied the necessary clearance because his leftist views had raised an official suspicion of “disloyalty.” Indeed, he later said, he once attended a Marxist function at Amherst, and slept through it, but his politics were nothing much more radical than the Roosevelt New Deal policies.
It was at Harvard, where he went for graduate studies after the war, that he began to see poetry as a vocation. His first collection, “The Beautiful Changes,” came out in 1947, the same year he finished his master’s degree. He became an assistant professor at Harvard in 1950 and taught there for four years, the beginning of an academic career that included 20 years at Wesleyan University and 10 years at Smith. He finally went home to teach at his alma mater, Amherst, which honored him on his 90th birthday in March 2010 with readings of his poems and translations.
Beside his son Christopher, Mr. Wilbur is survived by a daughter, Ellen Wilbur; two other sons, Nathan and Aaron; three grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Charlotte, died in 2007.
“Anterooms,” his last collection of new poems and translations, was published in 2010 — a slim volume whose better pieces were “as good as anything Wilbur has ever written,” the Times’s reviewer, David Orr, wrote. Looking back, he observed that Mr. Wilbur had “spent most of his career being alternately praised and condemned for the same three things” — for his formal virtuosity; for his being, “depending on your preference, courtly or cautious, civilized or old-fashioned, reasonable or kind of dull”; and finally for his resisting a tendency in American poetry toward “conspicuous self-dramatization.”
Mr. Wilbur’s work did grow somewhat more personal in later years — he had “crumbled” a bit, as he put it. But his poems were never without wit, grace and rigor, even when they were about the end of things, as in the two-stanza “Exeunt:”
Piecemeal the summer dies;
At the field’s edge a daisy lives alone;
A last shawl of burning lies
On a gray field-stone.
All cries are thin and terse;
The field has droned the summer’s final mass;
A cricket like a dwindled hearse
Crawls from the dry grass.

Friday, March 10, 2017

George Washington Forbes, African American Journalist and Librarian

George W. Forbes (1864-1927) was an American journalist who advocated for African-American civil rights in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is best known for co-founding the Boston Guardian, an African-American newspaper in which he and William Monroe Trotter published editorials excoriating Booker T. Washington for his accommodationist approach to race relations. He also founded and edited the Boston Courant, one of Boston's earliest black newspapers, and edited the A. M. E. Church Review, a national publication.
Forbes was born to slave parents in Mississippi, worked as a laborer at Harvard University, and graduated from Amherst College in Massachusetts before gaining a national reputation as a journalist. Locally, he was well known as the reference librarian at the West End branch of the Boston Public Library, where he worked for 32 years. He was the Boston system's first black librarian.

Early life and education[edit]

Forbes was born to slave parents in Shannon, Mississippi, in 1864. In his youth he worked as a laborer and a farm hand. At the age of 14 he left Mississippi for Ohio, where he studied for a time at Wilberforce University. In the mid-1880s he moved to Boston, where he worked for three or four years as a laborer at Harvard University, and saved up to continue his education. While living in Boston he befriended W.E.B. Du Bois, who was studying at Harvard at the time, and who went on to become one of the most influential African-American leaders of the period.[1]
In 1888, Forbes enrolled in Amherst College in western Massachusetts, where he made two lifelong friends: William H. Lewis, a pioneering black athlete who became an assistant U.S. attorney general, and William T. Jackson, who became an influential educator. Du Bois attended their graduation ceremony in 1892.[2][3]


After college, Forbes returned to Boston, where he aligned himself with a group of black activists known informally as "the radicals." The group, which included his classmate Lewis as well as William Monroe TrotterArchibald GrimkéButler R. WilsonClement G. Morgan, and other black intellectuals, was critical of Booker T. Washington's accommodationist approach to race relations.[4] That fall he started one of Boston's earliest African-American newspapers, the Boston Courant (not to be confused with the periodical by the same name founded in 1995), a weekly paper which he owned and edited until it folded for financial reasons five years later.[1][note 1]
In 1896 he became the Boston Public Library system's first black librarian when he was hired as an assistant librarian at the West End branch, the largest branch in Boston.[5] At the time, the West End was a predominantly black neighborhood. As waves of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe began to fill up the West End tenements, and black Bostonians began moving to the South End, the West End became increasingly Jewish. Forbes stayed put, becoming a neighborhood institution at the West End branch, where he worked for 32 years without taking a single sick day.[3][6]
In 1901, Forbes co-founded the Boston Guardian with William Monroe Trotter. According to Clement G. Morgan, Forbes provided the editorial know-how and literary ability, while Trotter provided the funding.[7] In the first issue, published on November 9, 1901, Forbes and Trotter declared their intent to fight for equal rights: "We have come to protest forever against being proscribed or shut off in any caste from equal rights with other citizens, and shall remain forever on the firing line at any and all times in defence of such rights."[8]
For the first two years, Forbes wrote most of the editorials. His sharp criticism of Washington soon garnered national attention. As Du Bois wrote later in The Crisis:
The Boston Guardian was radical, intransigent and absolutely clear. It opposed Mr. Washington's doctrine of surrender and compromise and it opposed this doctrine with editorials that flamed and scorched and George Washington Forbes wrote them....Whatever has been accomplished from that day to this in beating back the forces of surrender and submission and in making the American Negro stand on both feet and demand full citizenship rights in America, has been due in no small degree to Forbes' work on the Boston Guardian.[3]
In July 1903, Trotter and several of his friends disrupted a speech by Washington in a Boston church, and in the ensuing melee Trotter was arrested. The incident, which later became known as the "Boston riot," seems to have been a turning point for Forbes. Soon afterwards he left the Guardian, transferring his shares to William H. Lewis.[2] He played a small role in the founding of the Niagara Movement, the precursor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), but from about 1910 he retired from politics and focused on his work at the library.[1] He continued to write, contributing articles on black history and race relations to the Springfield Republican and the Boston Transcript, and reviewing books for The Crisis (the official magazine of the NAACP). He also edited the A. M. E. Church Review, the quarterly journal of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.[3][9]

Death and legacy[edit]

Forbes died of pneumonia on March 10, 1927, at his home at 18 Wellington Street in the South End. He was 63.[10][11]
After his death, the Boston Globe called him "one of the leading colored men of this city" and lauded his commitment to higher education, noting that he had encouraged many young black men to go to college.[12] What the Globe did not mention was that as a librarian in Boston's heavily Jewish West End, Forbes had influenced the lives of countless young Jews. A warm tribute to Forbes, originally printed in Yiddish, appeared in The Jewish Daily Forward and was reprinted in English in the Crisis and Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life. The article hailed Forbes as a "friend of the race," praising not only his intellect but his unfailing kindness:
Many times a college or high school student wrestled with a certain subject. To whom should he go? Of course to Mr. Forbes, and Mr. Forbes gave him advice, assisted and encouraged him, so that the student who came into the Library with a troubled heart and in despair, went out realizing and seeing a way to overcome the difficulty...Though his death is being mourned by the Negro population which was justly proud of him, still more is he being mourned by the Jewish children of the West End of Boston.[13]
The West End branch of the Boston Public Library closed on the afternoon of his funeral so that his library colleagues could serve as pallbearers. He left an unpublished manuscript, titled History of the Black Men in the Life of the Republic.[13]

William Henry Lewis, African American Pioneer in Athletics, Law and Politics

William Henry Lewis (November 28, 1868 – January 1, 1949) was an African-American pioneer in athletics, law and politics. Born in Virginia as the son of freedmen, he went to college in Massachusetts, where he became one of the first African-American college football players, and the first in the sport to be selected as an All-American. In 1903 Lewis was the first African American to be appointed as a Assistant United States Attorney; in 1910 he was the first to be appointed as one of the five United States Assistant Attorney Generals, despite opposition by the Southern Democratic block; and in 1911 he was the among the first African Americans to be admitted to the American Bar Association.
When Lewis was appointed as an Assistant Attorney General in 1910, it was reported to be "the highest office in an executive branch of the government ever held by a member of that race."[1] Before being appointed as an AAG, Lewis served for 12 years as a football coach at Harvard University. During that period, he wrote one of the first books on football tactics and was considered a nationally known expert on the game.

Early years[edit]

Lewis was born in Berkley, Virginia in 1868, the son of former slaves of European and African ancestry.[2][3] His father moved the family to Portsmouth and became a respected minister.[3] At age 15, Lewis enrolled in the state's all-black college, the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State University).[4]

Football player and coach[edit]

Amherst College[edit]

With the assistance of Virginia Normal's president, John Mercer Langston,[4] Lewis transferred to Amherst College, where he worked as a waiter to earn his college expenses.[3] He also played football for Amherst for three seasons.[2] In December 1890, the Amherst team voted "almost unanimously" to elect Lewis as the team captain for his senior year, 1891.[5] He was also the class orator and the winner of prizes for oratory and debating.[2]
W. E. B. Du Bois went to the Amherst commencement ceremony to see Lewis and another African-American student, George W. Forbes, receive their diplomas.[6]

All-American center at Harvard[edit]

Lewis cropped from 1892 Harvard football team photograph
After graduating from Amherst, Lewis enrolled at Harvard Law School. He played two years for the Harvard football team at the center position. An article published by the College Football Hall of Fame noted that, while Lewis "was relatively light for the position (175 pounds) he played with intelligence, quickness and maturity."[7] He was named as the center on the College Football All-America Team in both years at Harvard. He was the first African American to be honored as an All-American,.[4][8][9]On one occasion when Lewis and the Harvard team entered a dining hall, the Princeton University football team (which had many Southerners) rose as a group and exited in objection to the Negro player.[10] In November 1893, Harvard's team captain was unable to play in the last game of the season due to an injury. The game was Lewis' last college football game, and the team voted him as the acting captain for the game, making him Harvard's first African-American team captain.[4][11]
In announcing the All-America selections for Harper's WeeklyCaspar Whitney wrote that "Lewis has proved himself to be not only the best centre in football this year, but the best all-round centre that has ever put on a football jacket."[12] In 1900 Walter Camp named Lewis to his All-Time All America Team, noting that Lewis's quickness had revolutionized center play, placing the emphasis on "mobility rather than fixed stability."[12]


Football coach at Harvard[edit]

Following law school, Lewis was hired as a football coach at Harvard, where he served from 1895 to 1906.[4] During his coaching tenure, the team had a combined record of 114–15–5.[4] The Boston Journal wrote that Lewis was owed "much of the credit for the great defensive strength Harvard elevens have always shown."[2]

Author and renowned expert on football[edit]

Lewis developed a reputation as one of the most knowledgeable experts on the game. In 1896, Lewis wrote one of the first books on American football, A Primer of College Football, published by Harper & Brothers, and serialized by Harper's Weekly.[4][14] Upon the book's release, one reviewer noted:
A new feature, hitherto inadequately treated by previous authors, is the exhaustive treatment of fundamentals or the rudiments of the game, such as passing, catching, dropping upon the ball, kicking, blocking, making holes, breaking through and tackling. There is also a treatise on 'avoiding injuries' ... There are scientific expositions of team play, offensive and defensive, and a supplementary chapter on training which will be useful.[15]
In a 1904 article, The Philadelphia Inquirer placed Lewis on par with the legendary Walter Camp in his knowledge of the game, writing, "The one man whom Harvard has to match Mr. Camp in football experience and general knowledge is William H. Lewis the famous Harvard centre of the early nineties and the man who is the recognized authority on defense in football the country over."[16]
In 1905, critics of football sought to ban it from college campuses, or to alter its rules to control its violent nature. Lewis published an editorial in which he wrote, "There is nothing the matter with football. ... The game itself is one of the finest sports ever devised for the pastime of youth, and the pleasure of the public." While opposing unnecessary roughness, Lewis argued against proposed changes, noting that he did not want to watch "a game of ping-pong or marbles upon the football field."[17]Lewis asserted that football should remain "a strenuous competition, a scientific game played according to the rules of the game with vigor and force, sincerity and earnestness."[17]
Lewis later recalled, "There is no game like football. ... If it hadn't been for football there is no telling what I would be today. ... It gives you a general hardening and training which stands a man in good use in later life."[18]

Politician and lawyer[edit]

President Theodore Roosevelt, a friend of Lewis and a Harvard football fan, appointed Lewis as an Asst. U.S. Attorney in 1903.
Lewis entered politics by successfully running for election to the Cambridge Common Council where he served from 1899-1902.[19] He also was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature in 1901 for a single term, the last African American elected to that body for decades.[19]
As a result of his Harvard football career, Lewis became a friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, a Harvard alumnus, and was a guest of Roosevelt's at his estate at Oyster Bay, New York in 1900.[20] In 1903 the United States Attorney for Boston Henry P. Moulton, at the direction of Roosevelt, appointed Lewis as an Assistant United States Attorney in Boston; he was the first African American to be an Assistant US Attorney.[21] His appointment was reported in newspapers across the country.[22][23][24] Some wrote that the appointment was an effort by Roosevelt to show that "his championing of the negro is not political and is not limited to the southern states."[25] The New York Times downplayed Lewis' race, noting, "Lewis is said to be so light in color that only his intimate friends know him to be a negro."[26]
Some wrote that Roosevelt appointed Lewis in order to keep him in Boston, where he could continue coaching the Harvard football team. The author noted that Lewis "owes his appointment to the fact that he is an uncommonly good football coach and that President Roosevelt is a Harvard man."[27] Cornell has made several attempts to hire Lewis as its football coach. According to the story, Harvard men were "unwilling to lose Lewis's services in the football season, and they undertook to make his residence here so profitable that he would remain."[27]

First African-American Assistant Attorney General[edit]

In October 1910, President William Howard Taft announced he would appoint Lewis as an United States Assistant Attorney General, sparking a national debate. A North Carolina newspaper wrote that the "Lucky Colored Man" would hold the "Highest Public Office Ever Held by One of His Race."[1][28] The appointment was reported to be "the highest office in an executive branch of the government ever held by a member of that race."[29][30][31] The Boston Journal wrote that Lewis had received "the highest honor of the kind ever paid to a negro," such that he then ranked in "a position of credit and influence second only to that occupied by Booker T. Washington.”[32]
The Washington Evening Star concluded that the appointment of Lewis to "a higher governmental position than any heretofore given to a colored man" would result in a confirmation battle with southern Democrats.[33] An Illinois paper mistakenly reported in December 1910 that opposition to Lewis was so strong that Taft had decided not to place his appointment before the Senate.[34] But, Taft did not withdraw the nomination, and a Georgia newspaper predicted a "Hard Fight Is Coming" on the nomination:
Many southern members are firmly resolved that Lewis shall never be elevated to the high post of one of the five assistant attorneys general. The position carries with it a handsome salary, high social position and an entrée to White House functions. Whether or not Lewis would ever avail himself of these privileges, a number of southern Democrats feel that they do not want to be a party to elevating him to an eminence where such recognition would be his as a matter of official right.[35]
After a two-month fight against him waged by the Southern Democratic block (Southern states had disfranchised most blacks at the turn of the century and white Democrats dominated southern politics), the Senate confirmed Lewis as an Assistant Attorney General in June 1911.[36] After being sworn into office, Lewis went to the White House, where he personally thanked President Taft for the high honor.[37] Lewis' initial assignment was to defend the federal government against all Indian land claims.[37] Lewis was a frequent caller at the White House and regularly attended White House functions during the Taft administration.[38]

Challenge from southern ABA members[edit]

Attorney General George W. Wickersham sent a "spirited letter" to all 4,700 members of the ABA after the ouster of Lewis
In 1911, Lewis was among the first African Americans to be admitted to the American Bar Association (ABA).[8][9] In September 1911, Lewis faced a campaign for his ouster from the ABA. Though there was no racial restriction in the organization's charter, some members threatened to resign if Lewis stayed. When Lewis' name had been submitted with others by the Massachusetts Bar Association, his race had not been disclosed. The Southern white delegates said they did not know he was a negro until he entered the convention hall.[39] Lewis refused to resign.[40]
When the ABA's executive committee voted to oust Lewis in early 1912, U.S. Attorney General George W. Wickersham sent a "spirited letter" to each of the 4,700 members of the ABA condemning the decision.[41][42] While northern newspapers congratulated Lewis and Wickersham for their stance,[43] a North Carolina newspaper criticized Lewis for his lack of "good manners" in refusing to resign:
The insistence of William H. Lewis of Boston, now an Assistant Attorney General, that he retain his membership in the American Bar Association notwithstanding objections is due condemnation upon other grounds than those of race. He would probably not have been elected if it had been known by the majority of delegate who he was. Having thus slipped into an organization, he should offer his resignation pending a real decision of the matter. This is simply what any one elected to any manner of organization through any sort of ignorance or misapprehension is required by good manners to do.[44]
Lewis became an advocate for African Americans in the legal profession. During the fight over his removal from the ABA, Lewis published an article saying that many white men "know intimately only the depraved, ignorant, vicious negros – those who helped to keep the dockets filled."[45] He called for blacks to train and form "an army of negro lawyers of strong hearts, cool heads, and sane judgment", to help the large number of African Americans who were "exploited, swindled and misused".[45]

Private law practice[edit]

Lewis's tenure as Assistant Attorney General ended with Taft's presidency in 1913, as these are political appointee positions tied to particular administrations. Taft recommended Lewis for appointment as a Massachusetts Superior Court judge, but the state's governor, Eugene Foss, declined to make the appointment.[46] Lewis returned to Massachusetts and entered the private practice of law. He developed a reputation as an outstanding trial lawyer and appeared before the United States Supreme Court on more than a dozen occasions.[19] He remained active in Republican politics while practicing law. Among his cases, he represented persons accused of bootlegging and corruption, in addition to those challenging racial discrimination.[47]

Civil rights leader and speaker[edit]

Lewis was a speaker at Boston's memorial for famed abolitionist Julia Ward Howe.
Throughout his career, Lewis was outspoken on issues of race and discrimination. After a white barber in Cambridge refused to shave Lewis, he filed a suit seeking $5,000 in damages and successfully lobbied for the passage of a Massachusetts law prohibiting racial discrimination in places of public accommodation.[46][47][48][49]
In 1902, Lewis delivered an address on race relations to a gathering of Amherst College alumni. Lewis called race the "transcendent problem" facing the country, referring to the recent Spanish–American War, the disfranchisement of blacks in the South by new state constitutions, and the imposition of Jim Crow, which deprived blacks of civil rights, in his remarks:
Yesterday the United States waged a war for humanity when tyranny and oppression had grown intolerable. … Only a few hundreds of miles south of us are 10,000,000 people who are deprived of their rights, who are practically in a state of serfdom. Thousands of them have been lynched and shot for attempting to exercise the God given rights of every human being. The great Democratic party rolls on its honied tongue the sweet morsels of 'consent of the governed' and 'equality of man.' The Republican Party, progressive, patriotic, absorbed with expansion, is too busy to disturb the harmony of the spheres. They stand opposite making grimaces at each other; one says 'Filipino;' the other hasn't the courage to say 'Nigger.' It is a beautiful game of football with the negro as the football.[50]
He delivered the commencement address to the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute Class of 1910 in Alabama, urging them, despite adversity, to maintain their love for the South:
Love your native Southland. Nine tenths of our people were born here. All our past is here. All our future is here. Here most of us will live and here pass to the great majority and be gathered to the ashes of our fathers. The most glorious history of our race is here in the Southland, the most glorious history of the negro race anywhere in the world is here. If we have suffered here, we have also achieved greatly here. Rejoice in everything Southern.”[51]
While serving as Assistant Attorney General, Lewis learned that a young African-American graduate of Harvard had been refused employment at a prominent Boston trust company on account of race. In a speech to Boston business leaders, Lewis said: "In Boston the outlook for the negro is far worse than it has been since the Civil War. I think the blood of three signers of the Declaration of Independence and of the Abolitionists has run out."[52] He noted that, if he owned the majority of stock in a certain trust company, he would force the company to hire "the blackest man in Boston."[52] Lewis' speech reportedly drew "volumes of cheers" from the businessmen and "also from the colored waiters who cheered frequently."[52]
Lewis was one of three persons invited to deliver an address at Boston's Symphony Hall memorial to abolitionist Julia Ward Howe following her death in 1910.[53]
In 1919, Lewis was one of the signatories to a call published in the New York Herald for a National Conference on Lynching, intended to take concerted action against the widespread practice of lynching and lawlessness in primarily Southern states.[54] Lynching had reached what is now seen as a peak in the South around the turn of the century, the period when those states imposed white supremacy.[55] In the summer of 1919, after Lewis' speech, the economic and social tensions of the postwar years erupted in numerous white racial attacks against blacks in northern and midwestern cities where blacks had migrated by the thousands and were competing with recent European immigrants; it was called Red Summer.


Lewis died in Boston of heart failure on January 1, 1949. He was interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[56]