“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” — Mark 10:45
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Gamma Phi Delta Sorority Inc., (GPD) founded in February 1943 at Lewis College of Business in Detroit — Michigan’s only historically Black college or university (more next month about this).
Lewis College of Business, the only institution of higher education in the state to have the U.S. Department of Education’s distinct designation as a historically Black college, was founded by the late Dr. Violet Temple Lewis. Its original home was in Indianapolis, but it grew so quickly that another branch was opened in Detroit, and was located at John R and Ferry streets.
Dr. Lewis did not come to be served — indeed, she came to serve. She gave up her life in exchange for a life where she gave service to students who, as a result, had a better quality of life in the city of Detroit.
Briefly, the history of Lewis College of Business is probably parallel to the history of most HBCUs. In 1928, Lewis saw an unmet need for vocational training in the secretarial science arena for students of African descent in Indianapolis. Though there were secretarial schools in the area, African-American students were not accepted. Lewis contemplated how she could rectify this situation.
Determined to open a secretarial school since she had excellent secretarial skills, Lewis learned at Wilberforce University, the prestigious HBCU. She wanted to give African Americans an opportunity for the same success she obtained. For example, she was able to get wonderful positions as a secretary in Indiana, as well as working with Cortez Peters. Dr. Lewis was extraordinaire!
There was a vigorous African-American business district in Indianapolis, and this business community often searched for qualified secretarial support. Lewis secured a $50 loan from a local bank that required three male co-signers, who worked for the federal government.
Her employer gave her classroom space rent-free for 30 days, in one of several storefronts he owned in the black business district. Lewis was able to purchase some used office equipment with the $50 loan, and thus Lewis College of Business was born. In 1939 Lewis learned that secretarial schools in Detroit, Michigan, did not accept African-American students and she opened a branch school in Detroit. The Detroit school soon outgrew Indianapolis and in 1940, Lewis closed the “mother” school.
There is an historic marker at John R and Ferry streets in Detroit, which shares that Lewis College of Business served more than 20,000 students in its first 50 years.
Though clerical and secretarial positions are now plentiful for African Americans with skills, during the early days of the college, such students were not allowed to attend the majority of colleges. Therefore, Lewis College of Business became the opportunity to fulfill dreams for tens of thousands. The need to expand led to the purchase of a 10.5-acre campus on Meyers Road and was initially accredited by North Central Association of Colleges and Schools in 1978.
Knocking down doors of racism in hiring practices of governmental and corporate entities in Detroit, Lewis College of Business changed the ethnicity of white-collar workers throughout the state. As part of the celebration of the 300th birthday of Detroit, the Detroit Historical Museum developed an exhibit, “Thirty Who Dared,” which spotlights 30 Detroit citizens that had an impact on the city’s history. Though the college is now closed, we salute the work started by Dr. Violet Temple Lewis at Lewis College of Business.
Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. Visit her website, www.lyndiagrantshow.com, send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.