Lillian Miles Lewis, the wife of legendary Georgia Congressman John Lewis who helped fuel her husband’s rise in politics, died this morning in Atlanta at the age of 73, his office confirmed to the media.
The cause of Lillian Lewis’ death has not been released to the public as of press time, but Congressman Lewis is en route back to Atlanta to make home-going arrangements.
But we do know that Lillian Lewis had a rich and fulfilling life outside of, and often with, her husband John Lewis. She attended Los Angeles High School with future legal lion Johnnie Cochran who later became fascinated with the continent of Africa after volunteering in Nigeria as part of the Peace Corps. Prior to that, Lewis had earned her bachelor’s degree in English from California State and then earned her master’s in library science at the University of Southern California, both in Los Angeles.
She met her future husband, John, after he was already a historic figure. She was a librarian at Clark Atlanta University (then called Clark College) when fellow civil rights activist and Trumpet Awards founder Xernona Clayton set the two up to meet during a New Year’s party in 1967. With chemistry firmly established, the two future Lewises doubled dated with Julian and Alice Bond, friends who would become bitter rivals when John Lewis decided to run for Bond’s congressional seat.
John and Lillian Lewis were married in 1968.
“I was attracted to him before I knew him,” Mrs. Lewis would later reveal. “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.
Lillian Lewis continued to play a major behind-the-scenes role in her husband’s career. She was a major force behind him running for, and winning, a seat on the Atlanta City Council in 1981. And was his close political confidante during his upset victory over Bond in the 1986 congressional race.