David Levering Lewis

David Levering Lewis (born May 25, 1936) is an American historian, a Julius Silver University Professor, and a professor of history at New York University. He is twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, for part one and part two of his biography of W. E. B. Du Bois (in 1994 and 2001, respectively). He is the first author to win Pulitzer Prizes for biography for two successive volumes on the same subject.

David Levering Lewis
Born (1936-05-25) May 25, 1936
Alma materLondon School of Economics
Columbia University
Fisk University
AwardsPulitzer Prize (1994, 2001).
National Humanities Medal. 2009
Scientific career
InstitutionsNew York University

The author of eight books and editor of two more, Lewis concentrates on comparative history with special focus on twentieth-century United States social history and civil rights. His interests include nineteenth-century Africa, twentieth-century France, and Islamic Spain.


Lewis was born in 1936 in Little Rock, Arkansas to a middle-class African-American family. His father John Henry Lewis, Sr. had graduated from Morris Brown College in Atlanta, and went on to Yale Divinity School, becoming its first African-American graduate. He also earned an M.A. in sociology from the University of Chicago. He became principal of Dunbar Junior and Senior High School and Junior College in Little Rock. Lewis' mother taught high school math in the school.

While the family lived in Little Rock, the young Lewis attended parochial school. Lewis attended Wilberforce Preparatory School and Xenia High School after his father became Dean of the Theological School at Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio.

When the family moved to Atlanta after his father became President of Morris Brown College, Lewis attended Booker T. Washington High School in his junior year. He gained early admission at age fifteen to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1956.

Lewis briefly attended the University of Michigan Law School but left to attend Columbia University, where he earned his M.A. in history in 1959. He went to the London School of Economics for his doctorate, earning his Ph.D. in 1962 in modern European and French history.[1][2]

In 1961-1962, Lewis served in the United States Army as a psychiatric technician and private first class in Landstuhl, Germany.[3]

Lewis has three children from his first marriage.

Academic career

In 1963, Lewis lectured at the University of Ghana on medieval African history. After returning to the United States, Lewis taught at Morgan State University, the University of Notre Dame, Howard University, and the University of the District of Columbia from 1970 to 1980 as associate and full professor. Lewis was professor of history at University of California at San Diego from 1980 to 1984.

In 1985, Lewis joined Rutgers University as the Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of History, where he wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning two volume-biography of W. E. B. Du Bois and finished writing The Race to Fashoda: European Colonialism and African Resistance in the Scramble for Africa during his 18-year tenure.

In spring semester 2001, Lewis served as distinguished visiting professor in Harvard's history department.

In 2003, Lewis was appointed and currently serves as the Julius Silver University Professor and Professor of History at New York University.

He has received fellowships from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the National Humanities Center, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Professional career

Lewis is the author of the first academic biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., which was published in 1970, less than two years after the subject's assassination. His Prisoners of Honor: The Dreyfus Affair was published in 1974; The Bicentennial History of the District of Columbia was published in 1976; and When Harlem Was in Vogue in 1980. Lewis wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning two volume-biography of W. E. B. Du Bois during his 18-year tenure at Rutgers.

Besides the two Pulitzer Prizes for his volumes on W. E. B. Du Bois, published in 1994 and 2001, Lewis in 1994 won the Bancroft Prize and the Francis Parkman Prize for his first volume. In 2001 he also won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for his second volume on Du Bois, published that year.

He is a former trustee of the National Humanities Center, former commissioner of the National Portrait Gallery, and a former senator of Phi Beta Kappa.

Lewis appeared as a historical expert in the 1999 film New York: A Documentary Film, directed by Ric Burns for PBS. He was president of the Society of American Historians in 2002, and is a board member of the magazine The Crisis, published by the NAACP. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.[1][2] He was an Ellen Maria Gorrissen Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany, in spring 2008. President Barack Obama awarded him the 2009 National Humanities Medal at the White House on February 25, 2010. Lewis delivered the inaugural convocation lecture on September 19, 2010 at New York University Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Books by David Levering Lewis

External video
Booknotes interview with Lewis on W.E.B. Dubois: The Biography of a Race, 1868-1919, January 2, 1994, C-SPAN
Presentation by Lewis on W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963 at the Atlanta History Center, October 30, 2000, C-SPAN
Interview with Lewis about W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963, April 29, 2001, C-SPAN
Presentation by Lewis about his Du Bois biographies at the National Book Festival, September 8, 2001, C-SPAN
Presentation by Lewis and Deborah Willis on their book A Small Nation of People: W.E.B. Du Bois and African American Portraits of Progress, October 29, 2003, C-SPAN
Q&A interview with Lewis on The Improbable Wendell Willkie, November 4, 2018, C-SPAN
  • King: A Biography. University of Illinois Press. 1970. ISBN 978-0-252-00680-7.; Univ. of Illinois Press, 1979.
  • Prisoners of Honor: The Dreyfus Affair, William Morrow, 1974.
  • District of Columbia: A Bicentennial History, W.W. Norton, 1976.
  • The Race for Fashoda: European Colonialism and African Resistance in The Scramble for Africa. New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987 ISBN 1-55584-058-2
  • David L. Lewis (ed.) The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader, Viking, 1994, ISBN 9780670845101
  • William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (15 February 1995). David Levering Lewis (ed.). W. E. B. Du Bois: A Reader. Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 978-0-8050-3264-2.
  • When Harlem Was in Vogue New York: Knopf, 1981, ISBN 9780394495729
  • W. E. B. Du Bois, 1868-1919: Biography of a Race. Henry Holt and Company. 15 December 1994. ISBN 978-1-4668-4151-2. Winner of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, and winner also of the Bancroft and Parkman prizes.
  • W. E. B. Du Bois, 1919-1963: The Fight for Equality and the American Century. Henry Holt and Company. 1 September 2001. ISBN 978-0-8050-6813-9. Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
  • Race to Fashoda. Henry Holt. 1 December 2001. ISBN 978-0-8050-7119-1.
  • (with Deborah Willis) A Small Nation of People: W. E. B. Du Bois & African American Portraits of Progress, HarperCollins, 2003.
  • God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215, (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2008)
  • W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography. Henry Holt and Company. 4 August 2009. ISBN 978-0-8050-8805-2.
  • The Implausible Wendell Willkie: Leadership Ahead of Its Time in Walter Isaacson (ed.) Profiles in Leadership (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011)
  • The Improbable Wendell Willkie: The Businessman Who Saved the Republican Party and His Country, and Conceived a New World Order. New York, NY: Liveright. 2018. ISBN 978-0-871-40457-2.


  1. "David Levering Lewis" Archived 2006-05-09 at the Wayback Machine, The History Makers
  2. "David Levering Lewis", Organization of American History Archived February 15, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  3. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-09-01. Retrieved 2006-05-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link), Faculty of Arts and Sciences, New York University
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