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THE RELIGION CORNER: Salute to Marjorie L. Harris

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” — II Timothy 4:7

On May 16, 2017, America lost Dr. Marjorie Lewis Harris, a former president of one of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

What a privilege it has been to know and to love Harris! Convinced that a college degree was essential, it was she who would not stop encouraging me to go to college. Today, I do have my BA and master’s degree in communications. Dr. Marjorie L. Harris lived her life, as the title of her book suggests, on her own terms.

Harris was the daughter of Dr. Violet Temple Lewis, founder of the Lewis College of Business, where Harris served as president for decades before the school was closed in 2013.

The school, founded in 1928, was one of three unique HBCUs founded by an African-American woman. The other two sister institutions are Voorhees College, founded in 1897 by Elizabeth Wright, and Bethune-Cookman University, founded in 1904 by Mary McLeod Bethune.

These women served in roles where they were considered the minority. Dr. Marjorie Lewis Harris, a woman who loved the Lord, was my friend! Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Detroit, Michigan became her home for more than 60 years. When Violet T. Lewis died, it was Dr. Marjorie Lewis Harris who took the reins of leadership, having served as president for nearly thirty years.

Lewis College of Business will go down in history as the only institution of higher education in the state of Michigan to have the U.S. Department of Education’s distinct designation as a historically black college. At John R and Ferry streets, there is a historic marker for the building which housed the original college when Lewis first moved to Detroit. Basketball star Isiah Thomas was present for the marker’s unveiling ceremony, which was presided over by the governor of Michigan.

Though the college is closed now, Lewis was proud of its heritage as an institution initially founded to providing postsecondary education to students of African ancestry.

The history of Lewis College of Business is probably parallel to the history of most HBCUs. In 1928, Lewis saw an unmet need for vocational training in the secretarial science arena, for students of African descent, in Indianapolis. Though there were secretarial schools in the area, African-American students were not accepted at that time.

Lewis contemplated how she could rectify this situation, determining that she would open a secretarial school since she had excellent secretarial skills, learned at Wilberforce University, another prestigious HBCU.

There was a vigorous African-American business district in Indianapolis, and this business community often searched for qualified secretarial support. Lewis secured a $50 loan from a local bank that required three male co-signers, who worked for the federal government.

Her employer gave her classroom space rent-free for 30 days, in one of several storefronts he owned in the black business district. Lewis was able to purchase some used office equipment with the $50 loan, and Lewis College of Business was born.

In 1939 Lewis learned that secretarial schools in Detroit did not accept African-American students, so she opened a branch school in Detroit. The Detroit school soon outgrew Indianapolis and in 1940, Lewis closed the “mother” school.

During the 80 years (1939-2013) that Lewis College served the Detroit community, the college graduated over 5,000 students. Lewis College of Business was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in Michigan and was chartered as a postsecondary institution with an unlimited academic charter. It purchased a 10.5-acre campus and was initially accredited by North Central Association of Colleges and Schools in 1978.

The college helped knock down the doors of racism in the hiring practices of governmental and corporate entities in the Detroit metropolitan area, and changed the ethnicity of white-collar workers throughout the state.

Lyndia Grant is the host of “Think on These Things,” a radio talk show on WYCB (1340 AM), Fridays at 6 p.m. Contact her via email at lyndiagrantshowdc@gmail.com.

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Lyndia Grant

A seasoned radio talk show host, national newspaper columnist, and major special events manager, Lyndia is a change agent. Those who experience hearing messages by this powerhouse speaker are changed forever!

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