By Grant Hines
Jesse Lewis, founder of the Birmingham Times, has been inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists’ Hall of Fame. Lewis founded the weekly newspaper in 1964, the same year the Civil Rights Act was signed into law.
“I wasn’t no different than the average kid growing up,” Lewis said. “I wanted everything.”
Lewis, also a World War II veteran, has been president of Lawson Community College, a salesman for Coca-Cola, in addition to owning multiple properties throughout Birmingham.
He dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Army, but after returning from World War II, he earned his diploma. He then enrolled at Miles College in Fairfield, Ala. where he chartered the Gamma Kappa chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the nation’s oldest Black fraternity.
“I can’t imagine a journalism hall of fame without Lewis,” said Barnett Wright, who Lewis hired several years ago as executive editor of the Birmingham Times. “Who better to learn from than someone who’s 98 years old, someone who founded this newspaper at the height of the civil rights movement.”
The newspaper still operates in the original building that Lewis purchased in 1964 on 3rd Avenue in Birmingham’s Ensley neighborhood. He never had plans to move from the small buildings and expand the publication, even though his original aspirations were to acquire a building downtown.
“I’m in a safe location,” Lewis said. “Nobody’s ever broke in this building. Nobody’s ever done anything. I know the people across the street and they know me, and we need one another. That’s important to me.”
Lewis said journalists shouldn’t forget those who helped them in their careers.
“You were put here to help somebody, and I don’t forget that, whether they return it, don’t worry about that,” he said.
The Birmingham Times continues its mission to inspire the next generation of Black journalists and Lewis laid the foundation for that to happen.
“He’s had a tremendous impact not only professionally as a business person, someone who knows journalism, but also personally who just tells all of these stories that he has encountered,” Wright said.