Lewis Family Papers, 1910s-2007

Creator: Lewis family.
Collection number: 5499
View finding aid. 

Abstract: The Lewis family arrived in Raleigh, N.C., in 1923, when John D. Lewis Sr. took a job as a district manager for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company of Durham, N.C. He and his wife, Luella Alice Cox Lewis, and their two children, J.D. Lewis (John D. Lewis Jr.) (1919-2007) and Vera Lewis Embree (1921-2004), lived in southeast Raleigh and were members of First Baptist Church. J.D. Lewis was a Morehouse College graduate, one of the first African American members of the United States Marine Corps, and the first African American radio and television personality, corporate director of personnel, and director of minority affairs for WRAL of the Capitol Broadcasting Company (CBC). J.D. Lewis also worked as the special markets representative for the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company; as the project director of GROW, Incorporated, a federally funded program for high school dropouts; and as the coordinator of manpower planning for the state of North Carolina. Lewis was active in many civic and community organizations as well. Vera Lewis Embree (1921-2004) graduated from the Palmer Institute for Young Women and Hampton Institute. She built a successful and celebrated career as a choreographer and professor of dance at the University of Michigan. The collection consists of papers, photographs, and audiovisual materials that chiefly relate to J.D. Lewis’s working life and the civic and community organizations he supported. Lewis’s career is documented by materials from Capitol Broadcasting Company, including editorials he wrote and produced; GROW, Incorporated; Manpower; Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company; National Association of Market Developers; and the National Business League. Lewis’s civic leadership is evident in records of the Raleigh Community Relations Committee, which worked to integrate Raleigh public schools; political campaigns; and the Team of Progress, a group interested in political leadership at the city and county levels of government. Community organizations represented in the collection include the Garner Road YMCA; Alpha Kappa Alpha Debutante Ball; the Eastside Neighborhood Task Force; the Citizens Committee on Schools; Omega Psi Phi; and Meadowbrook Country Club, which was founded in 1959 by a small group of African American community leaders. Other materials document the Method Post Office dedication in 1965; the Montford Point Marine Association; and a youth charrette, possibly on integration of Durham schools. There are also clippings and printed materials on such topics as black power, African American history, Morehouse College, and Shaw University. There are several issues of Perfect Home, a home design and decorating magazine published by John W. Winters, a real estate broker, home builder, city councilman, state senator, and civic leader. Family materials are mainly biographical and include newspaper clippings, funeral programs, school materials, awards and certificates, and photographs. There are a few family letters, including one from 1967 with a first-hand account of rioting on Twelfth Street in Detroit and a copy of a 10 January 1967 letter in which the Lewis family opposed the selection of Mark Twain’s Mississippi Melody for student performance on the grounds that it perpetuated stereotyped images of African Americans. Photographs include portraits and snapshots of four generations of the Lewis and related Cox families, documenting family life from the 1910s through the 2000s. There are non-family group portraits of Omega Psi Phi members of Durham, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company employees on its 21st anniversary, and of unidentified groups at other civic and community events. There is one folder of J.D. Lewis photographs that depict him in various work contexts. Also included is a portrait of a young Clarence Lightner, who owned a funeral home business and later served as the first African American mayor of Raleigh. Audiovisual materials chiefly relate to J.D. Lewis’s work at Capitol Broadcasting Company/WRAL and his interest in African American community and history. Included are audiotapes of his editorials for WRAL; videotape of Harambee, a public affairs program about the concerns of the general public and especially African Americans; audiotape of musical performances, possibly for Teen-Age Frolic, a teenage dance and variety show; audiotape of Adventures in Negro History, an event sponsored by Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of Raleigh; and film of unidentified wedding and seashore scenes. Also included are several published educational film strips on African American history with accompanying audio.

Repository: Southern Historical Collection

Collection Highlights: Of particular note are the letters J.D. Lewis received from musicians and students desiring to appear on Teen-Age Frolic, the dance/variety show Lewis hosted on WRAL (Folder 140). There are also numerous editorials Lewis did during his years as a broadcaster, on a variety of topics (Folders 21-140). Additionally, there is corresponding audio for many of these transcripts (See Series 3).

Folder 16 also contains a 1967 letter with a first-hand account of the rioting in Detroit and a copy of a 10 January 1967 letter in which the Lewis family opposed the selection of Mark Twain’s Mississippi Melody for a school-wide student performance on the grounds “it will by no means further relationships in an integrated situation, where students as a whole, do not have a sufficient background or appreciation of Negro History to comprehend this as perhaps an exaggerrated situation of a particular and past era, but rather, would perpetuate an image already deeply established as stereotyped.”

There are also numerous photographs of the Lewis and Cox Family, including J.D. and Vera Lewis’s father during his time at Morehouse College. There are also photographs of J.D. Lewis on the set of Teen-Age Frolic, introducing different bands, and at different community events (Image folders 1-10).

  1. Ramona D. Whitaker Garner
    October 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm | #1

    Hello, I have been searching for video footage of my father dancing on Teenage Frolic, while he attended Shaw University, during the years of 1965 thru 1969. His name is Raymond Whitaker and was the only person to dance on the show from Middlesex, NC. If you could please assist me in any way, I would be grateful.

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