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The First Black All-American

Updated on September 20, 2014

William Henry Lewis, a name not synonymous with college football, was the first black man named to the college All-American football team. The date may surprise you....1892-1893.

William attended Amherst College from 1888-1891 where he was a member of the football team. The Amherst team of white athletes voted Lewis as team captain for his senior year. The '88 team was the first integrated college football team in America. William earned his way through college while working as a waiter. He would play football at Amherst for three seasons.

After graduating from Amherst, William attended Harvard Law School where he continued to play football as center. He was named to the College Football All-American Team in both years and would be the first African-American named to the prestigious team. Along with his selection to the Harper's Weekly team, Williams was also named to Walter Camp's All-Time All-America Team in 1900. He was also the first black captain at Harvard.

After receiving a law degree, William became a football coach at Harvard where the team's record during his tenure would be a a combined 114-15-5. William would receive most of the credit for the team's success because of his brilliant defensive schemes. He would be besieged from around the country for advice from other coaches.

In 2009, the College Football Hall of Fame inducted William along with seventeen others. It was a long time coming.


The above would be sufficient for a great chapter in anyone's life, but this man did so much more. I can not leave anything out.

William was so knowledgeable on the game of football that he published a book on American football that became used nationwide by coaches. He was a defensive genius and recognized right up there with Walter Camp.

He became a politician and lawyer as well as a good friend of President Theodore Roosevelt. The president had the U.S. Attorney for Boston appoint William as Assistant U.S. Attorney which made William the first African American U.S. Attorney.

In 1910, President William Howard Taft appointed Lewis to the position of U.S. Assistant Attorney General which was at that time the highest public office ever held by a black man.

William went on to private practice and civil rights leadership. He would die of heart failure in 1949 at the age of 80.


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