Sad news amid the fiscal cliff madness: Lillian Miles Lewis, the wife of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, died this morning in Atlanta, his office announced. Spokeswoman Brenda Jones said John Lewis is returning to Atlanta today but had no more details to release about the cause of death.
The Lewises had been married 44 years. They have one son, John Miles.
From the AJC’s obit:
Lillian Lewis met her future husband when he was already a civil rights legend, and played a key role in his transition to a career in politics.
Lewis, whose father owned a small contracting business, attended Los Angeles High School with the late Johnny Cochran, received an undergraduate degree in English from California State College (now California State University) at Los Angeles, and a master’s degree in library science at the University of Southern California.
She developed a lifelong interest in Africa when she taught in a student program in Nigeria in 1960, returning later as a Peace Corps volunteer to teach for two years in Yaba, Nigeria.
It was after taking a job as a librarian at Atlanta University (the predecessor, with Clark College, of today’s Clark Atlanta University) that she met her husband at a 1967 New Year’s Eve party at the home of television personality and civil rights activist Xernona Clayton. Clayton and another movement veteran, Dr. Bernard LaFayette, played matchmaker.
The two began a courtship, often double-dating with Julian and Alice Bond, movement friends who would become bitter rivals when Bond and Lewis opposed each other in a 1986 congressional race.
The Lewises were married in 1968.
“I was attracted to him before I knew him,” Mrs. Lewis said later. “Every day and every night on the news was something about what was happening in the civil rights movement, so I felt like I knew him.”
In his memoir, “Walking With the Wind,” Lewis recalled how his wife helped him decide to run for Congress in 1977 — a race he lost to Wyche Fowler — and became his chief adviser.
“She had always been very involved in politics, much more than I. She had been a delegate (supporting Shirley Chisholm) to the Democratic National Convention in ’72, and she was constantly active in a variety of local circles and organizations. She was outgoing, involved, intelligent and great in front of an audience — she could make a speech. She also knew how to organize, how to chair a meeting, the nitty-gritty stuff. When she finally said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s go for it,’ that was enough. We were in,” Lewis wrote.
Mrs. Lewis continued to play a major behind-the-scenes role in her husband’s career, which progressed from winning a seat on the Atlanta City Council in 1981 to his upset victory over Bond in the 1986 congressional race.
- By Daniel Malloy, Political Insider