Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Family

BOND: Let me go into some background and education. Who are the people you think most responsible for your development as a civil rights leader, as an adult, when you were coming along?

LEWIS: When I was coming along, I had one wonderful teacher. She was from Montgomery, and she would come down to the little community outside of Troy during the week and on the weekends she would go back to Montgomery. She was a wonderful woman. She was both a teacher and -- in the classroom, but also a librarian and she would say, "Read, my child, read, read everything."

BOND: What was her name?

LEWIS: Her name was Coreen Harvey. And I tried to read everything and people accused me of being nosy, but I was not nosy. I wanted to know. I asked a lot of questions and she would say, "Read, read." We didn?t have that many books at home, so I would read the books at school or read newspapers, especially black newspapers, The Afro, The Pittsburgh Courier, Ebony, and Jet and I tried to read everything. We didn?t have a subscription to the local newspaper, The Montgomery Advertiser, but my grandfather had a subscription, and when he would finish reading his newspaper every day, we would get his newspaper and read his newspaper. It was part of our contact with the outside world. So she inspired me a great deal. And my mother would tell us to work and to study, so we worked very hard growing up and so you had to try to learn as much as possible and to become imbued with the sense of getting an education.

BOND: And again, in your autobiography, you mention Uncle Otis. Who is Uncle Otis?

LEWIS: Uncle Otis was a wonderful man, my mother's youngest mother. He was a twin. And she had eight brothers and at a young age, he lost his mother -- my mother's mother, my grandmother -- and so he came to live with us and we called him Otis but he was really our uncle. He was just a few years older and he went off to high school to study, to stay in Montgomery and later stayed with a family and went to college in Montgomery, but he would come back to stay with us on weekends. And he encouraged me to go to school and to get an education. And when I got ready to go off to college, he gave me a footlocker that I still have.

BOND: Really?

LEWIS: He gave a footlocker and a hundred dollar bill. And I put everything that I owned in that footlocker, my few books and my clothing, and it was my Uncle Otis probably more than anyone said, "You've got to go to college, you've got to get an education."