David Levering Lewis (1936–)

David Levering Lewis is a Pulitzer Prize–winning American historian best known for his works on the African-American experience in the twentieth century. He has written biographies of two of the most important figures in the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. and W. E. B. Du Bois, as well as a reader on the Harlem Renaissance. In 1999, Lewis was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.”

David Lewis was born on May 25, 1936, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the son of John H. Lewis, an educator and principal of Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, and Urnestine (Bell) Lewis, who taught high school math. Lewis attended parochial school in Little Rock and then continued his education in Ohio and Atlanta, Georgia.

Lewis married Sharon Siskind on April 15, 1966, and they had three children. The couple divorced in October 1988. Lewis married Ruth Ann Stewart, a clinical professor of public policy at New York University, on April 15, 1994. They have a daughter and currently live in Manhattan and Stanfordsville, New York.

Lewis received a BA from Fisk University in 1956, an MA from Columbia University in 1958, and a PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1962. From 1961 to 1963, Lewis served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps as a psychiatric technician and private first class. Lewis taught as a lecturer in modern French history at the University of Ghana, Accra, from 1963 to 1964, as well as at Howard University from 1964 to 1965. He taught at the University of Notre Dame as an assistant professor of modern French history from 1965 to 1966, at Morgan State College as an associate professor of modern French history from 1966 to 1970, and at Federal City College as an associate professor of modern French history from 1970 to 1974. From 1970 to 1980, he was a professor of history at the University of the District of Columbia, which he followed with a stint at the University of California at San Diego from 1981 to 1985. Since 1985, he has taught at Rutgers University as the Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of History and since 2003 as the Julius Silver University Professor and Professor of History at New York University. Lewis was a fellow on the Drug Abuse Council of the Ford Foundation from 1972 to 1973.

Lewis has authored four biographies and four other books on history as well as editing two readers. He has also contributed to books, including The Civil Rights Movement in America (1986), edited by Charles W. Eagles. In addition to his scholarship on African-American history, Lewis has written about French, African, and world history. His field is comparative history with a special focus on twentieth-century U.S. social history and the civil rights movement.

The first volume of his two-volume biography of W.E.B. Du Bois, W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race (1993), won a Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, and the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians. The second volume, W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919–1963 (2000), won another Pulitzer Prize in 2001. According to Richard Lingeman in the New York Times Book Review, Lewis’s biography validates “a life splendidly devoted to fighting the lie of racism.” A Publishers Weekly reviewer commended W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century as “a major work of American biography and history.” In 2015, he was awarded the eighth annual Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Award for distinguished writing in American history of enduring public significance.  In 2018, he published The Improbable Wendell Wilkie: The Businessman Who Saved the Republican Party and His Country and Conceived a New World Order.

For additional information:
Contemporary Authors: New Revision Series, volume 2, pp. 420–421. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1981.

“David Levering Lewis.” African American Literature Book Club. http://aalbc.com/authors/david_levering_lewis.htm (accessed April 12, 2022).

“David Levering Lewis.” BlackPast.org. https://blackpast.org/aah/lewis-david-levering-1936 (accessed April 12, 2022).

C. L. Bledsoe
Ghoti magazine


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