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Maker interview details

Profile image of Earl Lewis
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  • October 18, 2013


  • Category: EducationMakers
  • Occupation(s): History Professor
    Academic Administrator
    Foundation Chief Executive


  • Born: November 15, 1955
  • Birth Location: Norfolk, Virginia


  • Favorite Color: Blue
  • Favorite Food: Steamed Blue Crab
  • Favorite Time of Year: Fall
  • Favorite Vacation Spot: Virginia Beach, Virginia

Favorite Quote

"We Serve As, Rather Than We Are, Before Titles"
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Foundation president, historian and academic administrator Earl Lewis was born in 1955 in Norfolk, Virginia. Lewis attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, where he graduated in 1978 with his B.A. degree in history and psychology. After graduating from Concordia College, Lewis enrolled in the University of Minnesota and received his M.A. degree in history in 1981. He then went on to earn his Ph.D. in 1984 from the University of Minnesota.

In 1984, Lewis was hired as an assistant professor in the department of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Then, in 1989, he joined the faculty at the University of Michigan as an associate professor of history and African American and African Studies. One year after his arrival at the University of Michigan, Lewis was appointed as the director of the university’s Center for African American and African Studies. He became a full professor of history and African American and African Studies in 1995, and a faculty associate in the Program in American Culture. In 1997, Lewis was promoted to interim dean of the University of Michigan’s Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. Shortly thereafter, in 1998, Lewis became the vice provost for academic affairs for graduate studies and dean; and, in 2003, he was appointed the Elsa Barkley Brown and Robin D.G. Kelley Collegiate Professor of History and African American and African Studies. Then, in 2004, he was hired as both provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and as the Asa Griggs Candler professor of history and African American studies at Emory University. Lewis was Emory University’s first African American provost and the highest-ranking African American administrator in the university’s history. In 2013, he left Emory University and assumed a new role as president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Lewis has edited, authored or co-authored seven books. They include the 1991 monograph In Their Own Interests: Race, Class, and Power in Twentieth-Century Norfolk, 2000’s To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans, 2001’s Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White, and 2004’s The African American Urban Experience: From the Colonial Era to the Present. Lewis is also the author of more than two dozen scholarly articles and has served on several academic and community boards, including the American Historical Review, Council of Graduate Schools, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Academy of Science’s Board on Higher Education and the Workforce, and the Center for Research Libraries. He became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008.

Earl Lewis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 18, 2013.

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Watch the full interview in the Digital Archive