“Let’s talk it out”: John H. Lewis & The Roslyn School Board
East Hills resident John H. Lewis, Jr. was elected to the Roslyn Board of Education in 1966. He served three terms between 1966 and 1974 and was Board President for the 1970-71 term.
Described in a 1975 tribute as “a wise person to whom we owe a lot in terms of humanity, humor, intelligence, effort and concern,” Lewis, wife Myrtie, and children Lolinda and John III, were one of the first Black families to move into the previously all-white neighborhood Country Estates at East Hills in 1963. Previously residents of Westbury, they found their home on Elm Drive through the “Open Door Program,” the fair housing initiative of the Roslyn Committee for Civil Rights.
Despite acknowledging challenges faced by his family, Lewis stated in a May 13, 1973 Newsday article entitled “A Family With Almost Everything,” “I have been given as much respect here as any place I’ve ever lived.” Commuting into Manhattan like most of his suburban neighbors, Lewis was an executive with IBM and McCrory's. He was later employed as Corporate Relations Manager for the Nassau County Economic Opportunity Commission. He described himself as someone who was “able to swing from Bedford Stuyvesant to Gracie Mansion.”
Lewis’ tenure on the school board was described in posthumous tributes as “a time of unrest due to the Vietnam War, the nationwide struggle for civil rights, and the drive for student participation in academic policy-making, as well as intensifying militancy on the part of teachers and other employees.” He was remembered for his calm and humor in tense situations, and described as someone who “displayed a finely-honed sensitivity toward individual needs and aspirations of both students and staff, as well as a sense of responsibility toward the taxpayer.“
A colleague who also served on the school board during these tumultuous years recalled, “John would always say when we attacked a problem, “Let’s talk it out” – with that wonderful smile on his face.”