Bill honoring Detroit educator clears Michigan Senate

    Michigan Senate

    A bill that would rename a portion of the John C. Lodge Freeway (M-10) in Detroit after legendary educator Violet T. Lewis last week unanimously cleared the Michigan Senate.

    The measure, Senate Bill 1137 sponsored by state Sen. Ian Conyers (D-Detroit), is now being considered in the House of Representatives.

    Violet T. Lewis

    In 1929, Lewis, an African-American, founded the Lewis College of Business in Indiana. She moved the school to Detroit in 1941. The institution primarily for women was the only designated historical black college in Michigan. It gave tens of thousands of women the opportunity for career development and advancement.

    “Looking at women who have traditionally been kept out of business roles, offering that first leg up was incredibly important,” Conyers told the Advance this week about the Lewis College of Business. “Typists and accountants who learned those real skills like balancing the books.”

    After experiencing low enrollment and accreditation problems, Lewis College of Business closed its doors in 2015.

    Conyers’ interest in the college’s founder started as a child while growing up in the northwest Detroit neighborhood where the institution was located for many years. He first offered a Senate resolution honoring Violet T. Lewis in March 2017.

    “We started meeting people and realized that we wanted to do something more permanent to recognize her contribution,” he said.

    Ian Conyers

    The Lewis portion of the well-traveled freeway that links downtown Detroit to Eight Mile Road, the city’s northern border, would consist of the section between Meyers Road and West Outer Drive. It would be renamed the “Violet T. Lewis Memorial Highway.”

    An active business and civic leader, Lewis established the March of Dimes Extravaganza Committee in 1953. During her years at the helm, it raised almost $1 million for the March of Dimes Foundation. Lewis died in 1968.

    “I recognize that in our country women are the head of many households,” said Conyers, who leaves the Senate this month after opting not to run for re-election in pursuit of an unsuccessful bid to succeed his great-uncle, former U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit). “And in the African-American community, many times, they are the only head of households. We wanted to celebrate that.”

    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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