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Rufus Lewis Collection

Rufus Lewis, is considered the Father of Montgomery and Central Alabama's Voting Rights Movement.


Rufus Andrew Lewis was born on November 30, 1906 (d. 1999), to the late Lula and Jerry Lewis in Montgomery, Alabama. He was the youngest of four children. His sisters, Roberta, Janie and Corrine preceded him in death. He grew up on the west side of Montgomery and was raised by Mr. & Mrs. Obe Thomas, who were farmers.

His early education was in Montgomery County, where he attended Alabama State Laboratory High School and Alabama State Teachers’ Junior College. He was a graduate of Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, where he earned an A. B. Degree in Business Administration in 1931.

Lewis taught one year at Conecuh County Training School in Evergreen, Alabama and one year at People’s Village School in Mt. Meigs, Alabama.

Lewis joined the faculty at Alabama State Teachers’ College, now Alabama State University, in 1933. There he served as athletic coach and as assistant librarian. Lewis was promoted to Head Coach for Football and Track in 1934, and was respectfully and affectionately called "Coach Lewis" for his outstanding winning records. While on the faculty, Lewis was a Charter-Member (1934) of the graduate chapter of Alpha Upsilon Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

In 1943, Lewis was called to serve in World War II; however, due to an injury sustained from a previous automobile accident, Lewis was ineligible for military/combat service. To demonstrate his patriotism, Lewis worked as a civilian with the National Defense Project for 2 years.

Lewis married Jule Adelaide Clayton in 1935, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William and Frazzie Clayton. The Lewis couple had one daughter, Mrs. Eleanor Lewis Dawkins. The young family resided in Patterson Court until they moved into the Clayton Family Home, 801 Bolivar Street, upon the death of William Clayton. Mrs. Jule Clayton Lewis met with a fatal automobile accident in 1958, while in route to a National Negro Business Women’s conference. The home-house is now the residence of the grand-daughter, Ms. Karen Dawkins.

Lewis was always concerned about Black people having the right to vote. The franchise to Lewis was the essence of what it meant to be a first-class citizen. He was especially disturbed that Black people who could read and write and those who fought in World Wars to "save democracy and to make the world safe for democracy" could not obtain the right to vote. When the franchise was continually denied to Black citizens, Lewis launched an earnest and consistent voting rights drive. He worked with students at Alabama State Laboratory High School’s "Citizenship Club" in 1938 and thereafter. By the early "1940s, Rufus Lewis became obsessed with voting rights. An entire generation of Montgomery (B)lacks say that the reason they first voted." (U.S. News Report, 10/8/95).

Lewis set up "citizenship schools," especially for veterans, as clinics to teach prospective voters how to fill out the so-called "literacy test," the pre-requisite to become a registered voter. Lewis believed that if a man could go to war and fight for his country, he should be entitled to vote. The Veterans’ Schools were at St. Jude and Booker T. Washington High Schools. People from all walks of life attended "citizenship schools" in the homes of people who had been trained by Lewis in "voting clinics." Lewis was an incredible and detailed organizer. Precision, efficiency and thoroughness were his calling cards. Indeed, he kept voting registration organizing forms in the trunk of his car, and at every opportunity he would attempt to get people to join up for citizenship school. He organized neighborhoods block by block, each with a "block captain."

Already a business associate in his wife’s family business, Ross and Clayton Funeral Home, Lewis opened the "Citizens’ Club" in 1952, a social nightclub where members were registered voters or enrolled in "citizenship schools."

Lewis was a member of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, now designated as the Historic King Memorial Baptist Church. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., age 26, was the pastor during the early and mid 1950s. Lewis was also a member of Southern Pride Elks Lodge #431, A. A. Peters Masonic Lodge #900 and the National Urban League.

Lewis’ expert organizing skills and his insight to human leadership potential prompted him to nominate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to be the spokesman for the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), the organization that spearheaded the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-57). Lewis became Chair of the Transportation Committee that operated with military precision (JoAnn Robinson’s The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It) and the Chair of the Voter Registration Committee. He served on the Board and the Executive Committee of the MIA.

His political acumen was awesome. He co-founded (1960) the Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC), the Black caucus of the Democratic Party and was the first president of the Montgomery County Democratic Conference, 2nd Congressional District of the Democratic Conference. He, also, co-founded the East Montgomery Branch of the NAACP and the New Southland Corporation, a group whose purpose was to help save land for Black landowners and to help with the proper utilization and management of that land.

White political candidates curried Rufus’ favor. Rufus through his relentless efforts had harnessed the "Black Bloc" using the strategies of "screening committees" and passing out a "yellow ballot" as a guide for Black voters. "Many (W)hites think they know Lewis," said Joe Azbell in a 3/7/74 issue of The Montgomery Independent. "But, that’s where they are fooled. Lewis has a poker face when he talks with (W)hites. He is oriented 100% toward the (B)lack community," Azbell continued.

As a result of Lewis political prowess, he was appointed to the Montgomery Parks and Recreation Board and served on the Board of Directors of the Montgomery Community Action Committee. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1976, and resigned from that position when U.S. President Jimmy Carter appointed him as U.S. Marshal, the first Black ever from the Middle District of Alabama.

Lewis not only had shrewd insight, but also a keen foresight. Lewis predicted after the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, where he was in attendance in the Rose Garden of the White House, by President Lyndon B. Johnson, that Blacks would exercise political muscle and get themselves elected, particularly in local elections. Another foresight is that Lewis lobbied to change the name of Jackson Avenue to that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. While this has yet to occur, it is a reality that the Lewis’ residence address has changed from 801 Bolivar Street to that of Rufus A. Lewis Lane. A public library in Montgomery was named in his honor in 1994.

Lewis in 1974 was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives, District 77. United States President Jimmy Carter appointed Lewis in 1977 to become the first Black U.S. Marshal of the Middle District of Alabama. Lewis’ tenure in this position ended in 1981.

Lewis returned to his life of business, farming and cattle-raising. He was still considered the Dean of Black Politics and was sought for advice by both Black and White politicians and political aspirants.

The Honorable Rufus A. Lewis passed on August 19, 1999. He was 92 years old. The Lewis Collection of more than 40,000 papers, manuscripts and small artifacts is housed in the archives at the H. Councill Trenholm State Community College in Montgomery, Alabama.

Processed by: Dr. Gwendolyn M. Patton
Date completed: October 2001
Copyright 1995
H. Councill Trenholm State Community College Archives. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents
Descriptive Summary Administrative Information Scope and Content
Index Biography Container List

Descriptive Summary
Title: Rufus A. Lewis Papers, 1935-1997
Collection Numbers: Barcodes # 402907 to 402912; 402915 to 402921; 402920, 402977, 402985, 403002, 403007, 403023-403024; 403010-403011; 403022-403023; 403027, 403032-403033; 403042
Size: 100 cu ft
Repository: H. Councill Trenholm State Community College

Administrative Information Provenance
Gift of Rufus A. Lewis and Eleanor Lewis Dawkins

Scope and Content

The Rufus A. Lewis Papers specifically document the Voting Rights Movement in Montgomery and Central Alabama to include Voters’ Registration and Get-Out-the-Vote organizing tools and strategies, 1950s-70s, many lists of names of organizers, completed literacy test forms, legal affidavits and cases documenting discrimination in the struggle to become registered voters; Political Parties, traditional and independent on the local, state and national levels; Political Correspondences; Elected Political Leaders; Civil Rights Organizations, to include minutes, newsletters, original leaflets and programs of the Montgomery Improvement Association, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, Congress for Racial Equality, NAACP, YMCA, the Elks, the E.O.S., The Challenge, Human Relations Council; Scrapbooks of news articles covering the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-56) and the Voting Rights Struggle; Civil Rights Movement Posters; Magazines, Periodicals, Newspapers and Books; Speeches written by Drs. Vernon John and Martin Luther King, Jr.; Parks and Recreation Papers to include minutes, personnel and budgets, news- letters, programs; Montgomery Community Action Papers (1968) to include constitution, by-laws, incorporation papers, minutes, personnel and budgets, expenditures, programs, community centers and neighborhood associations, newsletters; College (Fisk, Spelman, Tuskegee and Al State College for Negroes) Papers and Yearbooks, comprising of programs, pamphlets and booklets; Artifacts related to civic, social and business affairs; Phonographs (1930-1950s c), 78s and LPs; papers related to his tenure as U.S. Marshal (1976); and Personal Papers, comprising business transactions, property deeds, architectural plans, personal correspondences and photographs.

  1. #402907 (DB 1)—Poll Taxes; Registration Applicants; Unregistered Voters; Violence; Complaints, Challenges, and Court Cases; Federal Registrars; 1957 Voters’ Statistics and Legislation; Literacy Test; Public Park Desegregation Case; Civil Rights Programs; School Desegregation Case and Related Education Concerns.

  2. #402908 (DB 2)—1960 Voters’ Lists by Streets and Precincts; Original Leaflets and Handbills; Registration Drives Organizing Tools; 1962, 1966 Black/White Registrations; Screening Committees; Sample Ballots and Ballot Distribution; Get-Out-The-Vote Techniques.

  3. #402909 (DB 3)—Alabama Democratic Conference and Montgomery County Democratic Conference (Black Caucuses); Democratic National Convention and Black Delegates; National Democratic Party; State Democratic Party; Montgomery County Democratic Party Executive Committee; Young Democrats; Alabama State Coordinating Association for Registration and Voting; Jefferson County Progressive Democratic Council; Southern Democratic Conference; Alabama Independent Democratic Party; National Democratic Party of Alabama; New Politics Party; and other Political Parties.

  4. #402910 (DB 4)—Lewis Historic Marker; 1999 Lewis Black History Program; Lewis Funeral Program; 1996 Lewis Interview Transcription; Personal Bills, Receipts, Loans, Canceled Checks, Bank Statements; Personal Health Statements; Personal Correspondences From Family and Friends; Fisk University.

  5. #402911 (DB 5)—Political Correspondences; Notes and Speeches; Letters Helping People Get Jobs.

  6. #402912 (Poster Box 1)—Framed Postal Alliance-MIA Transportation Poster; Framed Lewis Photo; Alabama State Government Chart (1974); MIA Protocol Chart; New York Times "Heed Their Rising Voices" Poster (Conley Collection); Framed "An Appeal for Human Rights," 1960; Framed Racist Political Candidate’s Ad, 1960; and Other Original Posters, featuring Dr. Martin Luther King and Other Movement Leaders.

  7. #402915 (Newspaper Box 2)—Montgomery-Tuskegee Times (12/1977), Covering Inauguration of Lewis as U. S. Marshal; Alabama State College 1960 Alumni News; 1959 Amsterdam News; 1963 Afro-American and Other Newspapers; Architectural Drawing of Citizens’ Club.

  8. #402916 (Drop-Front Box 4)—The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History Journals (1956) ,Negro History Bulletin and Other Periodicals of the Period.

  9. #402917 (Drop-Front Box 5)—Scrapbook of Ted Poston’s Coverage (New York Post) of the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott Movement and Related News Articles.

  10. #402918 (ComPacStoBox 2)—Presidents; Vice Presidents; U. S. Senators and Representations; Judges.

  11. #402919 (ComPacStoBox 3)—Organizations: Montgomery Improvement Association, Dexter Church, Poor People’s Campaign, Emancipation Proclamation Committee, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Congress of Racial Equality, 1961 Freedom Riders, Challenge Newsletter, Southern Regional Council, Human Relations Council(s).

  12. #402912 (Poster Box 1)—Postal Alliance-MIA Transportation Framed Posters, Framed Lewis Photo, Alabama Government Chart (1974), MIA Protocol Chart, New York Times "Heed Their Rising Voices" Poster (Conley Collection) and Other Original Posters Featuring Dr. King, et. al.

  13. #402920 (ComStoBox 1)—Parks and Recreation Commission Board, Minutes, Agendas, Schedules and Reports, Personnel and Budget, Non-Discriminatory Hiring Policies, Newsletters and Cor- respondences, Senior Citizens and Youth Programs, Transportation,Cleveland Avenue YMCA, Girl Scouts.

  14. #402921 (ArtFactBox 7)—Reading Glasses, Guest Book and Photographs from Lewis’ Funeral.

  15. #402977 (DB 35)—Voter Registration Organizing Strategies and Tools; Completed Voters’ Survey Forms and Clinic Reports; Precinct and Block Captains; Organizational Committees.

  16. #402985(DB 36)—Transcriptions of WRMA-AM Radio Com-entaries (1960s), Unions (COPE) and Politics, Church and Politics, Women and Politics, Farmers and Politics.

  17. #403007 (ArtFactBox 8)—Eye Glasses, 3-zippered Wallet, Camera (circa 1940s), Check-making/Adding Machine (circa 1940s).

  18. #403010 (Poster Box 5)—Scrapbook of Articles depicting White Resistence to the Movement, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Paraphernalia, Framed Photographs of Lewis from 1939-1977.

  19. #403011 (Phono Box 4)—78 Phonographs (13), Mainly Popular and Rhythm and Blues, 4 Reels of Audio Tapes.

  20. #403022 (ComStoBox 17)—Personal Papers on Property and Mortgages, Architectural Plans, Citizens’ Club, Ross-Clayton Funeral Home, Business Ideas, U.S. Marshall Tenure, Photographs.

  21. #403023 (ArtFactBox 11)—Rare Books (1900 publication of John Stuart Mills’ Principles of Political Economy, vol. 1 and Merriam and Gosnell’s 1930 publication of The American Party System among other books.

  22. #403024 (ArtFactBox 10)—Elks and Shiner Fezzes.

  23. #403025 (ComStoBox 18)—Montgomery Community Action Agency (1968) Board Records to include Proposals, Constitution-By-Laws, Evaluations, Minutes and Agendas, Personnel and Budget, Newsletters and Correspondences, Transportation, Programs; Neighborhood Associations; Headstart; Health Education and Welfare; Office of Equal Opportunity; Community Leadership Development.

  24. #403027 (LP Phono Box 1)—Thirty (33) Long-Playing Phonographs, Mainly Classical, Dance and Dining Music; Some Folk and Spiritual Music; Poetry.

  25. #403028 (NewsArticleBox 1)—Political News Articles from The Saturday Evening Post (Carl T. Rowan), Time, Afro-American, Montgomery Advertiser/Journal, Atlanta Journal/Constitution, Southern Observer (1957-1959).

  26. #403031 (ArtFactBox 11)—Cassette Tape Eraser, Personal Items.

  27. #403032 (ComStoBox 19)—Voting Patterns of African-Americans (1950-1972), Political Candidates(pre and post 1965 Voting Rights Act), Black Candidates and Training Schools, Demographics, Congressional Districting and Related Constitutional (Election) Matters.

  28. #403033 (ComStoBox 20)—Voting Rights Movement, Organizers (Block and Precinct Captains, Contributors to the Movement, Other Organizations and Civic Clubs; Issues Affecting Black People, e.g., Jobs, Housing, Youth, Sports and Wars.

  29. #403042 (News Article Box 2)—Political News Articles (1960-99).

  30. #403079 (News Paper Box 3)—Political News Paper Clippings, 1966-1974.


  • Abernathy, Ralph (Rev.)


  • Alabama Self-Help Association

  • Alabama State Teachers’ College (University)

  • Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity

  • American Civil Liberties Union

  • Bell, Eolia

  • Billingsley, Ozell

  • Boswell Amendment

  • Boynton, Amelia

  • Branch, William McKinley

  • Carter, Jimmy

  • Cashin, John

  • Challenge Newsletter

  • Citizens’ Club

  • Civil Rights Act of 1957

  • Clark, James (Sheriff)

  • Cleveland Avenue YMCA

  • Committee on Political Education (COPE)

  • Dawkins, Willie

  • Dawkins, Karen

  • Dawkins, Eleanor

  • Dawkins, Karen

  • Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

  • Diggs, Charles

  • Durr, Clifford

  • Eastern Star

  • Farmer, James

  • Federal Registrars

  • Fields, Uriah

  • First Baptist Church

  • Fisk University

  • Frazier, O. F.

  • Gilmore, Georgia

  • Gomillion, C. G.

  • Gray, Fred, Esq.

  • Gregory, Dick

  • Hall, Peter

  • Hamer, Fannie Lou

  • Harris, Herman

  • Heflin, Howell

  • Holmes, Alvin

  • Holt Street Baptist Church

  • Humphrey, Hubert

  • Hutchinson Street Missionary Baptist Church

  • James, Earl (Mayor)

  • Johns, Vernon (Rev.)

  • Johnson, Beulah

  • Johnson, Frank (Judge)

  • Kennedy, John

  • King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Rev.)

  • League of Women Voters

  • Lee, Fritz

  • Lewis, John

  • Lewis, Jules Clayton

  • Ligon, E. H.

  • Lingo, Al (Director of Public Safety

  • Literacy Test

  • McCarthy, Eugene

  • Montgomery Parks and Recreation Commission

  • Montgomery Community Action Agency

  • Nixon, E. D.

  • Oak Park

  • Patton, W.C.

  • Payne, Ethel

  • Poor People’s Campaign

  • Reed, Joe

  • Regal Café

  • Ross-Clayton Funeral Home

  • Rufus A. Lewis Collection, 1935-1977

  • Seaborn, W. M.

  • Shores, Arthur

  • Smith, Stanley

  • Spelman College

  • Sullivan, L. B. (Police Commissioner)

  • Truman, Harry

  • Tuskegee Institute (University)

  • U. S. Marshal, 5th District

  • Vann, David

  • Voting Rights Movement/Organizers/Strategies

  • Voting Rights Movement/Affidavits/Court Cases

  • Wagner, Lamar

  • Wallace, George (Governor)

  • West, A. W. (Mrs.)

  • Williams, Hosea

  • Wood, Jim

  • Wright, Tom

  • WRMA-AM Radio