David Levering Lewis

David Levering Lewis
Born (1936-05-25) May 25, 1936
Little Rock, Arkansas, U.S.
Nationality American
Fields History
Institutions New York University
Alma mater London School of Economics
Columbia University
Fisk University
Notable awards Pulitzer Prize (1994, 2001).
National Humanities Medal. 2009

David Levering Lewis (born May 25, 1936) is the Julius Silver University Professor and Professor of History at New York University. He is twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, for part one and part two of his biography of W. E. B. Du Bois (in 1994 and 2001, respectively). He is the first author to win Pulitzer Prizes for biography for two successive volumes on the same subject.

The author of eight books and editor of two more, Lewis concentrates on comparative history with special focus on twentieth-century United States social history and civil rights. His interests include nineteenth-century Africa, twentieth-century France, and Islamic Spain.


Lewis was born in 1936 in Little Rock, Arkansas to a middle-class African-American family. His father John Henry Lewis, Sr. had graduated from Morris Brown College in Atlanta, and went on to Yale Divinity School, becoming its first African-American graduate. He also earned an M.A. in sociology from the University of Chicago. He became principal of Dunbar Junior and Senior High School and Junior College in Little Rock. Lewis' mother taught high school math in the school.

While the family lived in Little Rock, the young Lewis attended parochial school. Lewis attended Wilberforce Preparatory School and Xenia High School after his father became Dean of the Theological School at Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio.

When the family moved to Atlanta after his father became President of Morris Brown College, Lewis attended Booker T. Washington High School in his junior year. He gained early admission at age fifteen to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1956.

Lewis briefly attended the University of Michigan Law School but left to attend Columbia University, where he earned his M.A. in history in 1959. He went to the London School of Economics for his doctorate, earning his Ph.D. in 1962 in modern European and French history.[1][2]

In 1961-1962, Lewis served in the United States Army as a psychiatric technician and private first class in Landstuhl, Germany.[3]

Academic career

In 1963, Lewis lectured at the University of Ghana on medieval African history. After returning to the United States, Lewis taught at Morgan State University, the University of Notre Dame, Howard University, and the University of the District of Columbia from 1970 to 1980 as associate and full professor. Lewis is the author of the first academic biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., which was published in 1970, less than two years after the subject's assassination. His Prisoners of Honor: The Dreyfus Affair was published in 1974; The Bicentennial History of the District of Columbia was published in 1976; and When Harlem Was in Vogue in 1980. Lewis was professor of history at University of California at San Diego for several years.

In 1985 he joined Rutgers University as the Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of History. Lewis wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning two volume-biography of W. E. B. Du Bois during his 18-year tenure at Rutgers. He completed research for his first Du Bois volume and finished writing The Race to Fashoda: European Colonialism and African Resistance in the Scramble for Africa (1987).

Besides the two Pulitzer Prizes for his volumes on W. E. B. Du Bois, published in 1994 and 2001, Lewis in 1994 won the Bancroft Prize and the Francis Parkman Prize for his first volume. In 2001 he also won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for his second volume on Du Bois, published that year. In spring semester 2001, Lewis served as distinguished visiting professor in Harvard's history department.

In 2003, Lewis was appointed and currently serves as the Julius Silver University Professor and Professor of History at New York University.

He has received fellowships from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the National Humanities Center, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He is a former trustee of the National Humanities Center, former commissioner of the National Portrait Gallery, and a former senator of Phi Beta Kappa.

Lewis appeared as a historical expert in the 1999 film New York: A Documentary Film, directed by Ric Burns for PBS. He was president of the Society of American Historians in 2002, and is a board member of the magazine The Crisis, published by the NAACP. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.[1][2] He was an Ellen Maria Gorrissen Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany, in spring 2008. President Barack Obama awarded him the 2009 National Humanities Medal at the White House on February 25, 2010. Lewis delivered the inaugural convocation lecture on September 19, 2010 at New York University Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Books by David Levering Lewis


  1. 1 2 "David Levering Lewis", The History Makers
  2. 1 2 "David Levering Lewis", Organization of American History Archived February 15, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. , Faculty of Arts and Sciences, New York University
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