Archives and Special Collections
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Archives and Special Collections Finding Aids

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Collection Overview
Title:Elma Ina Lewis papers
Date:1917-1998
Location Code:69/1, FF4/D6
Reference Code:M38
Extent:10.39 cubic ft. (12 boxes)
Scope and Content Abstract:The collection spans 1917-1998 and documents her family background, education, and professional activities.
Historical Abstract:Elma Lewis was born on September 15, 1921 in Boston, Mass. She taught dance, drama, and speech therapy, and established the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in 1950, the National Center of Afro-American Artists in 1968, and the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in 1969.
Language and Scripts:
Arrangement:Organized into 2 series: 1. Personal and 2. Professional Files.
Subjects and Contributors:
  • Lewis, Elma
  • Lewis, Clairmont
  • Lewis, Edwardine

  • Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts
  • National Center of Afro-American Artists. Museum

  • African American women teachers -- Massachusetts -- Boston

Restrictions:Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the University Archivist.
Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the University Archivist.
Related Materials:

National Center of Afro-American Artists records (M42), Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts records (M43), and Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists records (M44)

Processor:Finding aid prepared by Michelle Maing. This collection was processed with funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission., August 1999

Scope and Content Note

The collection spans 1917-1998 (bulk dates, 1970-1990).  Early material comprises her father's personal papers.  The collection documents Elma Lewis's family background and interactions, and it includes personal papers of her parents, Clairmont and Edwardine Lewis, and other family members.  

The collection also documents Lewis' education, and it includes her writings on the history of the Center and the School; transcripts of interviews with Lewis on the arts in the African American community and the influence of Marcus Garvey; and materials documenting the 1971 libel suit Lewis brought against Rabbi Marvin Antelman of the Jewish Survival Legion after a press release was circulated that accused Elma Lewis of crimes against Jewish people. 

Lewis' professional activities outside of the Center, the School, and the Museum as an advisory board member, committee member, panelist, lecturer, and spokesperson for educational and cultural organizations are also documented in the collection.  Photographs and videotapes documenting her personal and professional life are found in the National Center of Afro-American Artists records (M42).

Historical Note

Elma Lewis was born on September 15, 1921 in Boston, Massachusetts.  Her parents, Clairmont and Edwardine Lewis, emigrated from the West Indies and both were followers of Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association.  As a child, Lewis was exposed to the ideals of Marcus Garvey, which instilled racial pride and influenced her to promote African culture.  

Lewis was educated at the Boston Public Schools, Emerson College (B.L.I., 1943), and Boston University School of Education (M.Ed., 1944).  She taught dance, drama, and speech therapy, and established the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in 1950, the National Center of Afro-American Artists in 1968, and the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in 1969.  The three organizations are national and regional cultural institutions for the performing and visual arts.  During a time of political and racial strife, Elma Lewis sought to bring peace and unity through the School's Playhouse in the Park program, a summer theater in Franklin Park, which began in 1966 and featured performances by Duke Ellington and other celebrities.  

Lewis received numerous awards and citations for enriching the cultural life of the African American communities locally and nationally, including a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship in 1981 and the Presidential Medal for the Arts in 1983; she also has received numerous honorary doctoral degrees.  She was a board member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Boston 200, Congressional Black Caucus, Metropolitan Cultural Alliance, Museum of Fine Arts, NAACP, North American Zone: 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, Office of the Mayor of Boston, and WGBH among other organizations.  She has published a number of articles on the history of the Center and the School, and the contributions made by African Americans to the arts, literature, politics, religion, and science. Elma Lewis died on January 1, 2004, at 82 years of age.

Bibliography

Professional Files, 75th Anniversary, Box 11 

Resumes and biographical sketches, Box 3

Russell, Dick. Black Genius and the American Experience. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1998.

Smith, Jessie Carney, Epic Lives: One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference.  Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1993.

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Series:

1. Personal, 1917-1998 (bulk dates, 1974-1976)
Volume:5 cubic ft.
Arrangement:

Alphabetical and chronological
Summary:

The series documents Elma Lewis' education, family background and interactions, her speeches and writings, and the court case.  The series contains appointment books, family and personal correspondence, legal correspondence, publications, resumes, biographical sketches, and her Master's thesis.  Also included here are personal papers of Lewis' parents, Clairmont and Edwardine Lewis, including their correspondence with other family members in the West Indies.  There is some material relating to Elma Lewis' brothers, Darnley Corbin and Milton Lewis, her cousin, Philip Lewis, and her foster child, Shy Ann Tillman.  Among Milton Lewis's materials is a 1930 program sponsored by the Universal Negro Improvement Association in which he performed.  The series also contains correspondence that Lewis received from her cousins and nieces.  Of special interest are Clairmont Lewis's handwritten speeches on Marcus Garvey.

In addition the series includes correspondence relating to speaking engagements at academic institutions, cultural organizations, churches, and professional associations; transcripts of interviews with Elma Lewis, covering topics such as the arts in the African American community, children and the arts, the influence of Marcus Garvey on her life, her active role in the African American community, and the history of the Center and the School; and Lewis' writings on the history of the Center and the School, and achievements of the African American community to the arts, literature, politics, religion, and science.   

 

Also documented here is the court case in which she sued Rabbi Marvin Antelman of the Jewish Survival Legion for libel and he countersued.  Although there is some material on the countersuit, most of materials document Lewis' suit against the Rabbi.  The files include legal briefs and correspondence, motions, appeals, and transcripts of court proceedings.  
BoxTitleDate
1Address Bookn.d.
1, 2Appointment Book (17 folders)1972-1994
3Appointment Calendar1969
3Birth Certificate1972
Education and Resumes
3Ballet Classn.d.
3Boston University Yearbook1945
3Boston University Master's Thesis1944 
3Nursery School1924
3Resumes and Biographical Sketchesn.d., 1972-1986
Family
3Corbin Darnley1987-1988
3Jordan Edwardine1984-1985
3Lewis Clairmont (8 folders)n.d., 1917-1985
3Lewis Edwardine (3 folders)n.d., 1950-1951 1982
3Lewis Milton1930, 1963-1975
3Lewis Philip (2 folders)n.d. 1976-1979
3Other Family Membersn.d. 1970-1988
3Tillman Shy Ann (2 folders)1984-1988
Friends1945-1957, 1972-1994
3Interviews, Speaking Engagements, and Writings (11 folders)n.d., 1969-1998 
3Legal and Property (9 folders)n.d., 1964-1998
4Legal: Lewis vs. Antelman (28 folders)1968-1992
5Legal: Antelman vs. Lewis (4 folders)1978-1985
6-7Personal Correspondencen.d., 1950-1998
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Series:

2. Professional Files, 1944-1998 (bulk dates, 1970-1990)
Volume:5 cubic ft.
Arrangement:

Alphabetical and chronological
Summary:

The series documents the professional activities of Elma Lewis outside of the Center and the School, including board memberships, and her active social role in numerous African American and arts communities.  This material comprises correspondence, memoranda, board minutes, notes, brochures, reports, award certificates, and copies of award plaques from educational and cultural organizations.
BoxTitleDate
7, 8, FF4/D6Awards (107 folders)n.d., 1944, 1964-1998
8-12Board Membership, A-Y1950-1997
11Conferencesn.d., 1972-1988
11Consulting1981
11Political Correspondencen.d., 1966-1994
11Professional Correspondence (2 folders)n.d., 1972-1997
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