Seventy-five-year-old Warren Lewis made his reputation as a grassroots civil rights activist in the 1960s. He founded neighborhood organizations that distributed food to impoverished citizens in North Memphis, put street kids to work, and pushed elected officials to enforce equal rights for African Americans throughout the city.
Today, Lewis' barbershop at 887 N. Thomas Street serves as a hub for local news that seldom reaches the paper and a stumping ground for politicians. Lewis offers a unique perspective on the local role of the National Civil Rights Museum in light of the December 8th demonstration against the current museum board of directors.
"I was involved with marches in the '60s," Lewis says, explaining his choice to sit this one out. "I don't hardly go to marches anymore." — Preston Lauterbach
Flyer: Are folks in North Memphis talking about the controversy over who controls the Civil Rights Museum?
Lewis: No, not much. They don't know about the museum. They're not informed. I'd like to see the museum open up to them and show them the things we've been through. Local people should be able to go through there for free to [learn about] the struggle. Maybe it would open their eyes to certain things. I talk to a lot of young people who aren't informed about their history, and the museum might be able to help that.
Are you satisfied with the way the Civil Rights Museum tells the story of the movement?
I'm pretty satisfied with it. I had a flashback seeing pictures of the riots and the police siccing dogs on people.
How could the museum function as a civil rights organization?
If I was over there, I'd make contact with the people here in the ghetto and inform them about what's going on. There should be more laymen involved with the museum [board of directors], people who have direct contact with what's going on in the community. They're not connected with the grassroots people. The civil rights movement included ordinary people. They can help the direction of the museum. It's too top-heavy the way it is.
What do you think about Al Sharpton's decision to protest the way the museum is run?
He opens the eyes of a lot of people, but I don't see the [long-term] results.