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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

LEWIS, FANNIE - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

LEWIS, FANNIE (6 June 1926 - 11 August 2008) was the Ward 7 representative for the CLEVELAND CITY COUNCIL, an area that included the city's HOUGH neighborhood, for almost thirty years. Lewis, a Democrat, earned a reputation for her tireless efforts to improve Hough in the wake of the 1966 riots (See HOUGH RIOTS) in the neighborhood, including encouraging the construction of Lexington Village, townhouses on Hough Avenue, Crawford Estates homes, and a number of new, expensive homes in Hough that many refer to as "Fannie's Mansions." Lewis was inducted into the Ohio Women Hall of Fame in Columbus in 1996.

Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Lewis met and married her husband, Carlee Lewis at the age of 19. Fannie Lewis, who worked in laundry and as a cosmetologist in Memphis, moved to Cleveland with her husband in 1951. Carlee started a trucking business, while Fannie pressed shirts at a local dry cleaner's. Immediately following the Hough riot in 1966, Lewis first gained public attention when she was photographed talking to some of the roughly 1,700 National Guard troops that were dispatched to the neighborhood to restore order. After the riot Lewis took a more active role in the community when she became a recruiter for Neighborhood Youth Corps, a project to help people find work. In 1969 she was promoted to a recruitment coordinator position with the organization. In 1972 Fannie divorced Carlee. This was also the year that she was named director of the citizens' component of the Model Cities program, which aimed to improve neighborhoods. Fannie Lewis was appointed to the REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY board by Mayor Dennis Kucinich in 1979, but her nomination was blocked by the City Council.

Lewis was first elected to City Council in the fall of 1979 and she began her first term in 1980. It was her second attempt at the position; she ran unsuccessfully for election to the City Council in 1976. Lewis attempted to stop the demolition of public housing in Cleveland in 1982 and claimed that "We've survived the rats, the roaches and the riots, and we will survive Reaganomics." Lewis was a major supporter of a school voucher program in Cleveland because she believed it gave children the opportunity to attend a better school. Despite challenges, the United States Supreme Court upheld the voucher program in 2002. Lewis was responsible for was the "Fannie Lewis Law" that took affect in January of 2004. This law requires that city residents to make up at least 20 percent of the work force on a construction project where there is a city contract above $100,000. Lewis gained national attention when she was featured in the 2004 documentary "No Umbrella: Election Day in the City," a film that focused on voting problems in Cleveland during the 2004 election. Much of the film focused on Lewis's efforts to get more voting machines for her ward, where many people were forced to, wait in long lines in the rain in order to vote.

One of the issues that Lewis was passionate about was the rehabilitation of LEAGUE PARK in the Hough neighborhood. She was confident that the city of Cleveland could complete the task as she said, "I'm not questioning whether it will," Lewis said. "I know it will. It's just a matter of finally putting this all together." Lewis said: "It's really something that once you put your hands on it, you really can't discard it," Lewis said. "If you can keep the spirit of it alive, I know [restoring the park] would still be possible ... it's going to happen."

Lewis was also passionate about sharing her personal experiences with others, and was open about the fact that she was on welfare early in her life. She said, "Surviving that experience has helped me to help others get off the merry-go- round, to dig for dignity, and to feel comfortable in sharing their experiences. I came to do a job, and that job is with whomever and whatever my hands find to work with. I must take it and make whatever I need to move on in this life looking for a better world." Fannie Lewis is survived by her five children.

Fannie Lewis Papers, WRHS.

Last Modified: 30 Jul 2009 10:13:57 PM

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