9 February 2018

Liberia: First African American Billionaire, the Late Reginald Lewis, Remembered

Photo: Liberian Observer
Reginald Lewis.

The board chairman of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), Cllr. Robert Tubman, is expected to leave for the United States for a historic event in which many in the United States are anxiously waiting to participate. Cllr. Tubman leaves Liberia today to form part of the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the death of an iconic African American, the late Reginald Lewis, the first African American billionaire in the United States.

Lewis died in 1993 at age 50.

By coincidence, for Robert Tubman, this man of honor was his schoolmate at the Harvard Law School. Lewis was a year ahead of the renowned Liberian Lawyer.

Lewis, a self-made man from Baltimore, MD, was the first person to be admitted to Harvard Law School without ever applying. Lewis owned a law firm on Wall Street that became part of his multi-billion dollar business empire, Tubman said.

Having already purchased the McCall Pattern Company for $22.5 million, Lewis made history for buying Beatrice International Foods for $985 million. At the time, it was the largest offshore leveraged buyout ever, according to a website dedicated to Lewis.

According to Tubman, the celebration will be held in New York on Thursday, February 15. "This celebration is special because he is the first black man to earn a billion dollar through his company, T. L. C.," Cllr. Tubman said. "This is a celebration of the financial community in the United States and of his life, which marked 25 years of his demise."

Cllr. Robert C. Tubman, a classmate of the late Lewis's at Harvard Law School

"We have people from around Africa that will be part of this wonderful celebration and I was invited from Liberia. There will be some people from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana and others," Tubman said.

According to him, the celebration is also being organized by the Harvard University and Lewis's widow, as well as the television company that will be doing a documentary which will also broadcast from coast to coast in the United States," he said.

Cllr. Tubman indicated that Lewis was a dynamic man and a very gifted person, especially being a lawyer and a businessman who did a lot of things.

He said in those days, there was no company that did extremely well to earn one billion United States dollars, and Lewis made a difference which is worth celebrating. Cllr. Tubman indicated that Lewis graduated from Harvard University in 1968, while he (Tubman) graduated in 1969. Mr. Lewis helped to empower many black people in the United States and other parts of the world, including Nigeria, Ghana, Singapore, Thailand, China, and the Philippines.

This month, Cllr. Tubman said, showcases and celebrates the life of Mr. Lewis as an African-American, adding that this is the first time for Mr. Lewis to be celebrated.

As chairman and CEO, he moved quickly to reposition his company, paid down his debt, and vastly increased the company's worth, according to his biography. By 1992, the company had sales of over $1.6 billion annually, and Lewis was sharing his time between his company's offices in New York and Paris.

"For me, this was earth shaking in the sense that he was the first African-American, really the first American to do an overseas deal," Loida Lewis said. "With racism part of [America's] DNA, he was able to empower his community and Latinos."

While his legend is cemented in Baltimore through the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, Lewis' legacy reaches further.

An exhibit in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture features Lewis and there's also the Reginald F. Lewis International Law Center at Harvard Law School; the Reginald F. Lewis High School of Business and Law; and the Lewis College of Sorsogon City in the Philippines.

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