Billy Lewis, Basketball/Track & Field

  • First African-American Varsity Basketball Player at CU
  • Three-Time Letterwinner In Basketball
  • Cleared 6-6 3/4 as a High Jumper
  • Voted Commissioner of the ASUC by the Student Body

The first African-American varsity basketball player at Colorado (and the first to letter), enrolling at CU in September 1956; at that time, freshmen were ineligible to play and he thus made his debut in the 1957-58 season... As with his football counterparts, though treated well in Boulder, he often had to endure harsh racism on the road in pre-Civil Rights America and thus blazed the trail for all those who would follow him to CU... Best season was his junior year, when he averaged 5.9 points per game with a career-high 21 against Nebraska... The 6-3 forward played in 67 career games, scoring 244 points and grabbing 197 rebounds in lettering three times... In 1959, after the basketball season was complete, he decided to come back out for track in his specialty, the high jump; he cleared 6-6 and finished second in the CU Invitational (to Wyoming’s Jerry Lane, who jumped an inch higher) which topped his previous personal best of 6-2 as a senior at Denver’s Manual High School, where he was coached by CU great and Hall of Fame member Gil Cruter... Just as important if not more so were his contributions as a student leader, becoming the first African-American elected by the student body as commissioner of the ASUC (Associated Students of the University of Colorado); he led a delegation of students and testified on the resolutions against discrimination in housing and employment practices and headed the SFHD, Students For Human Dignity, two of many causes he championed that helped change CU in a positive way forever... Upon his graduation from CU in 1960, he clerked for a Denver judge, and after marrying fellow CU grad JoKatherine Holliman (the first African American woman on CU’s homecoming court), they relocated to Washington D.C. where he would work for Colorado senator Peter Dominic in 1963 and 1964 while earning his Juris Doctor of Law degree from Howard University... In ’64, he was recruited by IBM and took a position as the first African-American corporate attorney at the company’s headquarters in Armonk, N.Y., and returned to Colorado two years later (1966) to be the junior counsel for IBM in its Niwot offices... He almost made a successful bid to become a state representative in 1968 against Tom Bastien, but lost by just 100 votes; he then opened a private law practice in Denver with partner Morris Cole.

 

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