The death of Esquire Lewis Myers is a real lost to the civil rights community in this country. He impacted change. He was an unapologetic Black man living in America during the civil rights movement. He was a prince of a guy, a passionate attorney, who practiced law for the past 42 years.
He was a very good friend. Lew was best known as a civil rights attorney. Some of the cases he worked on were game changers. His resume read like a who’s who and a what’s what. When he got involved in a case it was with all of his brilliance.
Lew liked to represent the underdog. He could walk in any room and be comfortable, from the courtroom to the poolroom. He liked bottom up. He was a defense attorney. His client at large was the Black community.
He was the people’s champion. If you were in trouble, at any social level, you wanted Lew on your side. He represented politicians, civil rights leaders, and gang bangers. He loved his job.
Attorney Lewis Myers Jr. (1947-2018)
The Jackson Campaign
Lew was counsel to The Honorable Louis Farrakhan, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Ben Chavis, and a host of others. He watched after them in multiple ways.
I met Lew while working on Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. I was writing something for Jackson and I was told that it had to pass the scrutiny of Attorney Myers before being released.
Wow, I said, who the hell is he? I was not impressed that some smart, Jewish, middle-age, bald guy would walk in and red-pencil my work, or more importantly, challenge my idea. I was not a happy camper and I was ready for a fight. My work was on hold for a couple of days, far too long for my liking.
I asked Jackson smartly, who was this Lew Myers character that I had to suddenly pass through. He laughed and said wait and see. You will get along famously. He’s your kind of guy.
Finally, one day I met Mr. Myers. He was handsome, Black, smart, dynamic and sharp. He loved Armani. Quite the opposite of what I expected. He read my paper and approved it, and then we went at it. I told him I would probably not be submitting my work to him because I had been around Jackson far too long to seek permission from an outsider.
He said, yes you will, because we are no longer in the civil rights movement; we are now running a national political campaign with the eyes of the world on us and there will be no mess up.
Then he began to talk about his experience and credentials. I shared my experiences with him. He, too, thought I was a Jewish woman who would be trying to run the campaign. We checked each other and eventually got into a groove and became very good friends.
How did you get the name Hartman, he asked me one day. I told him my great grandfather from New Orleans, who was called “Pa Jim.” He was a German Jew. How about you, Mr. Myers, I asked. He said just about the same thing, but he came from Houston.
The Jackson presidential campaign was a phenomenon. It included Jackson’s people, campaign people, and loads of volunteers. We had to blend and work as a machine. Lew was trying to make that happen.
We were of like mind, most of the time. He told me we couldn’t just say things any more. We must think very seriously about positions and what we say and write, because it will have so many eyes. So let’s check each other, before it leaves our campaign quarters. He was right.
I was watching media; he was watching law and everything else. We had healthy arguments on points of view and strategies of what the campaign should and shouldn’t do. He was engaging and most of all, of great humor. He was a great storyteller.
One day I cried with Lew, saying the damn press was sometimes too much. You had to always be on and handling worldwide press was challenging. One day, in a two-hour period, Jackson had 18 interviews in 18 different settings and all had been promised as “exclusives.”
I was thinking and moving fast on my feet as a media person, but it was a bit much. Jackson was awesome; he rose to each occasion and delivered 18 exclusive messages to a global press corp.
After my frustrated crying spell, Lew handed me some tissue and said that’s what you signed up for. He said, do you think I am coming in here to cry because I’m the lawyer and it was hard?
Lew and I bonded over the campaign; we had a lot of respect for each other in our disciplines. We conferenced on major things. Jackson was our single common focus. We were protectors and defenders as we shared brand new experiences and were a part of a changing, think-fast, creative politic.
We knew we were bringing about change, but we didn’t know what it would mean in the long run. We knew Jackson was the candidate to watch and was presenting real change in America in his presidential campaign. We also knew in our hearts that we were watching the ballot and the bullet.
A Man For All Seasons
Lew was on every black side. He was a Christian, a Nationalist, a civil rights activist, a lawyer, a player, a defender, and he even watched after the gang bangers. He is often referred to as the movement’s lawyer. He knew a lot from multiple camps. Everybody wanted Lew’s take.
Lew fought the good fight, for a lot of people. He advised, he counseled, he took on their cases and causes. He was the great defender. He got people out of jail; he represented inmates who had been jailed unfairly. He loved police brutality cases. He liked taking on the hard, difficult cases.
Sometimes we talked on the phone for hours. We talked a lot about political issues, strategies, media, and current events. We talked about winning, and success. Lew loved a good argument, a good joke, and he loved young bright minds. He was a listener. He loved grooming and mentoring young lawyers.
He talked about Berve Power and Andre Grant as his protégés, and how he wanted to share his experience with them to make them top-flight lawyers. That was important to him, as he had been in an intern-like position with the famous civil rights attorney William Kunstler. His life’s work was set from that involvement. He also loved the late Judge Eugene Pincham.
At one point, Lew, Berve, Andre, and Judge Pincham formed what I called the Legal Dream Team to defend a little Black boy who had been accused of rape and murder long before his body would permit the sex act. They were a marvel to watch and I sat in on a couple of sessions, as we watched very carefully how the press was playing the case.
Lew was skillful and brilliant. He had quite the analytical mind and would analyze very quickly a political race, a book, a TV show, and a personality.
He was an avid reader who read constantly. We had the same philosophy on books – read to learn something. We both liked biographies and history books. We would refer books to each other and sometimes read a book together and discuss while reading.
The last book we shared was Rising Star, The Making of Barack Obama. We both gave kudos to author David Garrow for a well-researched book. Lew wanted to meet Dave and one of my last efforts was to try to host a dinner party with him so we could discuss the book with the author. Busy schedules never permitted the meeting.
Lew was a behind the scenes guy who worked diligently all the time if he was on a project. When he spoke, people perked and listened and often said, with finality, “Lew said…” He taught at the City Colleges of Chicago and later Chicago State University. He wanted to teach Black students. He wanted to inspire.
We talked about the teaching dynamic and how there were gems in those classrooms waiting to become shinning stars. We had long conversations on teaching. My teaching years were behind me and his were beginning. He wanted me to teach again. He said it is a different experience with experience in your portfolio. We compared notes.
Lew was a dedicated friend. If he was your friend, he was your friend. He had many. Some of us will just miss him; some of us will be lost without him. Civil rights lawyers like Lewis Myers are few and far in between. He was one of a kind.
Life is so very precious. We never know when we leave this earth, though we know we will. It is a wise person who lives life full and to the end, with no regrets of what should have been. I will always remember him, as will many.
Our last conversation was on life itself, love, and a forehead kiss. He told me to take care of a few people and to most of all remember him. I wonder if he knew it would be our last conversation. He was truly a prince of a man and I loved him.