Did you know that America’s first Black billion dollar businessman was a Nupe?
It is true! Reginald F. Lewis (December 7, 1942 – January 19, 1993) was a business man who was the richest African-American man in the 1980s.
Lewis was born in Baltimore into a middle-class family in 1942. His father was a postal worker and his mother a teacher. From an early age, Lewis respected the hustle, he once stated that he began selling newspapers when he was 9 years old, earning about $20 a week and saving $18.
He graduated with a degree in economics in 1965 from Virginia State University before entering Harvard Law School which he finished in 1968. He then joined the New York law firm of Paul Weiss Rifkin Wharton & Garrison and just a few years later, opened his own law firm, Lewis & Clarkson, which specialized in venture capital projects.
“Mr. Lewis’s business career was highlighted by two major deals,” an article written in The New York Times in 1993 by Kappa Alpha Psi’s Journal editor, Jonathan Hicks, states. “The first, in 1983, involved the purchase of the McCall Pattern Company. With $1 million he had saved from his dealings as a corporate lawyer, he led a $23 million buyout of the small dress-pattern maker. Four years later, after restoring the ailing company to financial health, Mr. Lewis sold McCall to the John Crowther Group of Britain for $63 million in cash, which brought him a personal profit of $50 million.”
In 1992, his $3 million donation to the Harvard Law School, from which he graduated in 1968, made him the school’s largest individual donor ever up until that point.
Mr. Lewis was a big supporter of the Black community and donated large amounts to a various institutions, from homeless shelters to neighborhood churches. One thing that made him stand out was that he did not believe that he should be seen as an important figure because of his race.
“I’m very proud of the accomplishments of African-Americans,” Mr. Lewis said in an interview shortly after the acquisition of Beatrice. “And I’m delighted that people feel this accomplishment adds to that list. But to dwell on race — to see that as something that becomes part of my persona — is a mistake, and I do everything I can to discourage it.”
As a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, Lewis was active with the New York Alumni Chapter which is located in Harlem. If you ever have a chance to visit their chapter’s posh historic three story brownstone located in the Sugar Hill area of Harlem, the first thing you will see when you open the door is a large memorial to Lewis.
Lewis died of a brain cancer in 1993.
In 1992, Forbes listed Lewis among the 400 richest Americans, with a net worth estimated at $400 million. He also was the first African American to build a billion dollar company, Beatrice Foods, and he was one of the smoothest Nupes to date.
Check out this short documentary on him and then click on the arrows below to see pictures of how smooth this Nupe was.