Guiding Question:

How did immigrants define becoming American?

Lesson Questions

  1. Why did William Henry Lewis's family migrate from the South to the North?
  2. How did William Henry Lewis overcome racial and economic barriers to make a better life for himself and others?
  3. Why was education so important to Lewis?


During the Black Migration thousands of African Americans from the Southern states moved North hoping for a better life.

William Henry Lewis

This was the case of William Henry Lewis's family. Lewis was born in Berkley, Virgina in 1868, the son of former slaves. His father moved the family to Portsmouth, Virginia, where he became a respected minister. At age 15, Lewis enrolled in the state's all-black college, the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State University). Later, he graduated from Amherst College and then went to Harvard Law School.

At Amherst College and Harvard Law School, William received awards for being a great orator (giving speeches). He also became the first African American to play football at Amherst and the first African American to be captain of the football team at Harvard.

Education and sports played a major role in his life and made him a well-respected member of the school communities. But was he treated the same outside of school?


Header and Inline Image:
William Henry Lewis, Harvard University Digital Image Archives (cropped from 1892 official team photograph). Available through Wikimedia Commons.