Claude Lewis, a co-founder of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and founder of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists (PABJ), died Friday, March 17 at his home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, at 82.
Born in Harlem, he attended New York City public schools and graduated from City College with a degree in English. Lewis worked as an editor and reporter for publications that included Newsweek, the New York Herald Tribune and The Philadelphia Bulletin. He also wrote a syndicated column for The Philadelphia Inquirer and taught at Villanova University.
“This is a sad day. Claude was a mentor for me and always had time to talk with young journalists trying to navigate the newsroom,” said Sandra Dawson Long Weaver, another NABJ co-founder. “He was the calm spirit that guided many of us.”
Known as one of the “original three,” Lewis, along with fellow Philadelphia journalists Chuck Stone and Acel Moore, laid the groundwork for and later founded the PABJ in 1973. Many of those early members contributed to the formation of the NABJ in 1975 in Washington, D.C.
NABJ President Sarah Glover described him as a “gentle giant.”
“Claude had a passion for equality and equal opportunity which could be seen in his columns and his life’s work,” she said. “He lives on in all of us and I thank him for instilling in me, and my peers, a deep level of tenacity and commitment to the cause.”
Lewis had an extensive career in broadcasting, writing and producing TV specials and documentaries with NBC and Westinghouse Broadcasting. In 1982, he founded The National Leader, a national Black newspaper.
Another NABJ co-founder, Joe Davidson, worked with Lewis at The National Leader after first meeting at The Philadelphia Bulletin where the two had previously been employed.
“Claude was an important force in journalism in the 70s and meant a lot to me personally and to a lot of Black journalists professionally,” Davidson said. “He lured me away from The Inquirer to work as managing editor at The Leader. I was really proud of the work we did together.”
Lewis covered the civil rights movement in the ’60s, interviewing such icons as Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. In 1968, Lewis left a meeting in Philadelphia to join the King family in Memphis after hearing that King had been shot.
Washington Post national reporter Vanessa Williams, a former NABJ president, said “we should honor Claude and Acel by continuing their tradition of being fierce advocates for the truth, especially in this current political climate.”