Elma Lewis

[caption id="attachment2276" align="alignright" width="300"]<a href="http://bostonlocaltv.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/barcode340203thumbnail.jpg">Elma Lewis Elma Lewis interview in 1980. Watch the full story.[/caption]

Elma Lewis has left her mark on Boston and the national arts community. A recipient of both a MacArthur Fellow Grant and the Presidential Medal for the Arts, her work in arts education is beyond impressive. She was also an important community leader for civil rights. She founded both the National Center for Afro-American Artists and the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts.

One can get a good idea of how influential and prominent she was in the Boston community based on her prevalence in our collections. She appears in the audience at many events, supporting many politicians and civil rights leaders at press conferences, making speeches at colleges and museums, and in several interviews. As we’ve been digitizing, viewing, and cataloging more news stories, we’ve discovered several additional stories that feature Ms. Lewis, where she hadn’t been mentioned in the original record.

One of the assets we have digitized is an unedited portion of an interview with Ms. Lewis in 1980, followed by b-roll shot for the story. This tape is the last one of the interview, and, unfortunately, it seems that we don’t have any of the others in the archives. Ms. Lewis has an easy, relaxed way of talking to reporter Karen Holmes, camera operator Bob, and the camera directly, while she answers the final question of the interview, about the fate of black arts and cultural institutions and the black community as a whole. She asserts that “we stay” despite the lack of funding and other hardships, citing the Twelfth Baptist Church as an example. She goes on to describe that, while many people think that Boston’s racial problems arose because of busing, that as a child before busing in the 1970s, she did suffer the effects of racism as a member of the black middle class. She was the only black student at Emerson when she attended, and there hadn’t been a black student for 15 years before she enrolled, and there wasn’t another one until 10 years after. Her time there was so difficult, that when the college later chose to grant her an honorary doctorate, they had to ask her if she would even accept it.

Just before they start to shoot the cutaways, she gives an eloquent example of the divide between the generations in the black community. She says the following of her generation: “When they were children they had to eat the crusts, so the adults could have the bread. And now that they’re adults, they have to eat the crusts, so the children can have the bread.” She is never bitter and always hopeful, both in this interview and in the other stories in our collection.

We have even more news stories featuring Elma Lewis in our collections. For more about Elma Lewis’ life and work, read this short biography. Elma Lewis' papers and the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts records can be found at Northeastern's Archives.