Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tom Lewis (1940-2008): Profiles from the Illustrations

Tom Lewis (1940-2008), 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     As far as the history books are concerned, much of who Tom Lewis was is summed up in the years 1967-1968, the time of his two most famous protests. Those events have been recounted in many volumes, including Howard Zinn's classic, A People's History of the United States. I knew Tom Lewis quite well, and though he considered those events important as well, his life and influence were far more widespread.

Democracy Now remembers Tom Lewis

     Tom Lewis was born in Baltimore, MD in 1940. After high school, Tom joined the Nation Guard. The military changed Tom's views and as he said, "Its started a slow process of waking up to the problems of war." Social causes were calling and at the same time Tom was developing as an artist, creating works for Churches. Those two interests came together when Tom was introduced to Phillip Berrigan, a priest who shared many of Tom's feelings about war and injustice. In 1967, Tom and Phillip were part of the "Baltimore Four", which gained headlines after taking draft records and pouring blood over them. In 1968, while still out on bail for that case, Tom, Phillip and seven others did the same thing again in Catonsville, MD. This time, however, they used homemade napalm to destroy the records. The group became known as "The Catonsville Nine." Tom was convicted and served three years in prison.

Tom Lewis and others burning draft records- Catonsville, Maryland- 1968
     After his release from prison in the 1970's, Tom Lewis moved to Worcester, MA. There, he continued his life's work in many capacities... He became an art instructor, teaching at the Worcester Art Museum and Anna Maria College, all the while pursuing his own artistic career. Ever a man of devout faith, he worked with the homeless and downtrodden, even opening his own home for those in need. He continued his protests, his acts of non-violent disobedience, serving more time in jail for causes he believed in. And, as Tom would often say was his greatest accomplishment, he became a father. He loved his daughter, Nora, more than anything.

Cops and Peace Demonstrators. By Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis talks about his Art and The Catonsville Nine

The Catonsville Nine, 1968. (Tom Lewis back row, right)

EZEKIEL, 1996. By Tom Lewis
     Tom Lewis was one of a kind. For those fortunate enough to meet him, he will always live on in memory and legacy. He is, and will always be, greatly missed.

In memory Tom Lewis

Tom Lewis (1940-2008)

Tom Lewis (1940-2008) and Howard Zinn (1922-2010)