Friends are calling Lillian Lewis an ordinary person with extra-ordinary talents. The wife of Congressman John Lewis died Monday at Emory University hospital at the age of 73.
The couple were introduced at the height of the 1960s civil rights movement in Atlanta by broadcaster and civil rights activist Xernona Clayton, and counted Martin Luther King Junior among their friends.
Clayton says Lillian Lewis memorized every one of King's speeches. King was so amazed and touched, he used to quiz Lewis on her knowledge.
“He said,’ You know I spoke up in, now where was I? I think it was Denver in October’ and he’d give a date. She’d say ‘Yes, that was October tenth and it wasn’t Denver, it was Boise City, Idaho.’ And he said ‘Well what did I talk about?’ And she said ‘ You used this as a scriptural reference and you talked about this, that and the other. ‘ And he would just fall out laughing because he would prove to folks that she knew!”
Clayton says Lillian was one of the most intellectual people she’d ever met.
She says “ We’d go places and people would say ‘Speak, Lillian, speak’ because they loved the way she framed her language. And I called her the understated intellect because she didn’t do as much as I thought she could have with all the knowledge that she had. But she just was so self-effacing. She was an ordinary person, with extra-ordinary talents.”
Clayton says Lillian Lewis encouraged her husband to get into politics because he wanted to continue the work he began as student leader of Dr. King’s civil rights movement.
“And while she was not a public person herself, she was willing to do whatever was necessary for him to achieve his goals of public service. And she did it so nobly and so sacrificially because it just was not her thing initially to be involved.” she says.
The couple was married for 44 years and have one son.
Funeral arrangements are still being made.