Harvard’s William Henry Lewis, who was a pioneer in both sports and politics, was among the 16 players and two coaches named to the 2009 College Football Hall of Fame Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) Class.
What makes Lewis’ accomplishment so astounding is that he was able to put together an amazing college football career during an era when few Blacks attended majority-White institutions. As a center at Harvard from 1892-93, Lewis was the first African American ever to earn First Team All-America honors, helping lead Harvard to a gleaming 22-2 record. The Virginia native was selected by the National Football Foundation’s FBS Veterans Committee from the national ballot of 76 candidates and a pool of hundreds of eligible nominees. Lewis started his college education, at the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State University), when he was 15. Virginia Normal was the state’s first college for Negroes. Lewis’ next stop was Amherst College, where he played three seasons before attending Harvard Law.
At Harvard he became the first Black team captain and eventually an All-American center – despite weighing only 175 pounds. After his playing days were over, he coached at Harvard for 12 years.