In Memoriam: Samella Sanders Lewis, 1923-2022

Samella Lewis, a long-time educator, artist, and major figure in the world of African American art, died on May 27 of renal failure at a hospice faculty in Torrance, California. She was 99 years old.

A native of New Orleans, Dr. Lewis enrolled at Dilliard University in 1940. She transferred to what is now Hampton University in Virginia and earned a bachelor’s degree there in 1945. She continued her studies at Ohio State University, earning a master’s degree and doctorates in fine arts and art history. There she also met her husband, mathematician Paul Gad Lewis. The couple remained married until Paul’s death in 2013.

Dr. Samella Lewis then taught at what is now Morgan State University in Baltimore and Florida A&M Univerity. Active in the civil rights movement in Tallahassee, she and her family were driven from the city after members of the Ku Klux Klan shot bullets into their home. Dr. Lewis then taught at the State University of New York-Plattsburgh.

After a stint in Taiwan as a Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Lewis settled in Los Angeles n 1964. She taught at California State Univerity, Long Beach and California State University, Dominguez Hills. In 1970, she joined the faculty at Scripps College in Claremont, where she was the first Black scholar to be awarded tenure. The Samella Lewis Collection of Contemporary Art was created by Scripps College in her honor in 2007.

In 1976, Lewis founded the Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles County. She was the author of the textbook African American Art and Artists (University of California Press, 2003).

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