William H. Lewis

Football Player and Coach + Politician
Born Nov 28, 1868

William Henry Lewis was an African-American pioneer in athletics, politics and law. He was the first African-American college football player, the first in the sport to be selected as an All-American, the first to be appointed as an Assistant United States Attorney, the first to become a member of the American Bar Association, and the first to serve as United States Assistant Attorney General.… Read More

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1868 Birth Lewis was born in Berkley, Virginia in 1868, the son of former slaves of European and African ancestry. … Read More


1890 21 Years Old In December 1890, the Amherst team voted "almost unanimously" to elect Lewis as the team captain for his senior year, 1891. … Read More
1895 26 Years Old Following law school, Lewis was hired as a football coach at Harvard, where he served from 1895 to 1906. … Read More
1896 27 Years Old 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. … Read More


1899 30 Years Old Lewis entered politics by successfully running for election to the Cambridge Common Council where he served from 1899-1902.
1900 31 Years Old 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.
1901 32 Years Old He also was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature in 1901 for a single term, the last African American elected to that body for decades.
1903 34 Years Old 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. … Read More


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." … Read More
1911 42 Years Old 1 More Event
In 1911, Lewis was among the first African Americans to be admitted to the American Bar Association (ABA).
1912 43 Years Old 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. … Read More
1913 44 Years Old Lewis's tenure as Assistant Attorney General ended with Taft's presidency in 1913, as these are political appointee positions tied to particular administrations. … Read More


1919 50 Years Old 1 More Event
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. … Read More


1949 80 Years Old Lewis died in Canada of heart failure on January 1, 1949. … Read More
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