February 12, 2016
1892 & 1893 All-America
William Henry Lewis was the first African-American to be named an All-America player (the first team was selected in 1889). The son of former slaves, Lewis was born and raised in Virginia. At the age of 15, he attended Virginia State University and then went on to attend Amherst College. While attending school he worked as a waiter to pay for college and played football for three seasons at Amherst. Lewis was named a team captain his senior year.
After graduating from Amherst, William attended law school at Harvard University. Lewis was able to continue his college football career at Harvard as players were allowed to play beyond 4 years at that time. At 175 pounds, he was small in stature, but possessed great quickness and intelligence. In 1900, Walter Camp named him to his All-Time All-America team.
After law school Lewis stayed on at Harvard as an assistant coach for 10 years and in 1896, he wrote one of the first “how to” books on football. Cornell University tried to lure him to be their head coach but he knew he would not be able to pursue his legal career as a full-time coach.
In 1899, Lewis began a new phase of his career – politics. He served on a city council and was elected to the state legislature. He became friends with President Teddy Roosevelt, a fellow Harvard alum and was named an Assistant United States Attorney. President Taft then appointed Lewis as US Assistant Attorney General (at that time, the highest government post ever achieved by an African-American). In 1911, he became one of the first African Americans to be admitted to the American Bar Association. He then entered a private practice and led a long fight for civil rights until his death in 1949.