SU’s First African-American Graduate in Residence to Discuss Civil Rights

September 28, 2016

SELINSGROVE—William A. (Bill) Lewis ’68, Susquehanna University’s first African-American graduate, will spend an entire week next month meeting with scores of Susquehanna students. His purpose: to inspire current students while discussing both his experiences on campus during the height of the civil rights movement and his subsequent distinguished federal career working to improve the nation’s civil rights climate.

Lewis will meet with students the week of Oct. 9 in a number of different small-group forums, including: prelaw and political science classes; a career discussion about federal employment opportunities; informal dinners with his younger Phi Mu Delta brothers and young men of color; as well as a current events pizza night and a “Let’s Talk” dinner open to all interested students.

Lewis first arrived on the Selinsgrove campus just two months after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; he graduated with a degree in political science shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. While a senior at Susquehanna, he represented the university at American University’s Washington semester program. After earning a law degree from Boston University, he spent three years as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia.

For the next 36 years, Lewis worked for the federal government or federal agencies, almost exclusively focusing on civil rights and diversity issues.

He first joined the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as an attorney, then served the commission in various congressional liaison roles. The commission, an independent agency that reports to the president and Congress, has played an important role in key civil rights legislation involving desegregating schools, enforcing voting rights, and banning employment discrimination.

Lewis’ dozen years with the commission were followed by two three-year stints, first as legal counsel with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which was chaired by the current vice president, Joe Biden, and then as an attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which he served as a supervisory attorney.

He spent the final 19 years of his career with the U.S. Department of Energy, from which he retired in 2011 as the deputy director of the department’s Office of Civil Rights & Diversity.

The Chevy Chase, Md., resident also has been a stalwart member of the Susquehanna University Board of Trustees since 1987; he assumed emeritus status on the board last year. Lewis’ long history of service to his alma mater also includes various reunion and development committee leadership positions and three years as president of the Alumni Association Executive Board. He received the university’s Alumni Service Award in 2005.

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