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Joseph R. Lewis  alumnus, class of 1972

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Joseph R. Lewis

Rising through the ranks of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the qualities of integrity, character and leadership have guided Mr. Lewis and helped to create an outstanding record of distinction and accomplishment.

Born in Panama City, Panama, Mr. Lewis’ family immigrated to the United States in 1960 and settled in Liberty. As a Liberty High School student, Mr. Lewis was a standout student athlete, competing and lettering in basketball, football and track. His talent on the court earned him a scholarship to play college basketball for both Gannon College and SUNY Oneonta.

After earning degrees in political science and business economics, Mr. Lewis joined the FBI’s Washington office as a support employee and within a year was designated an accounting technician – the precursor to today’s financial analyst – and was transferred to the agency’s Atlanta office.

By 1979, he had become a special agent assigned to the Chicago office where he worked for the next nine years. During this time, he moved up through the ranks to head the division’s public corruption unit.

While Supervisor of the Chicago Public Corruption Squad he headed the investigation which led to the conviction of 15 public officials. Other posts include Supervisor of the Chicago Civil Right Squad, Acting Legal Attaché in the American Embassy in Panama, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Denver FBI Office, Chief of the Operation Support Section, Criminal Investigations Division.

In 1996, he became the first African-American in the racially charged state of Alabama to be named Special Agent in Charge of the Birmingham office. There he helped lead the investigation into the bombing of an abortion clinic in Alabama, GA, - a case that would expose the man eventually identified as the Olympic Park Bomber, Eric Robert Rudolph.

In 2000, Mr. Lewis would oversee yet another controversial and historical investigation – one that would reopen the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, in which four African-American girls were killed and 22 others were injured. This flashpoint in the civil rights movement inspired Spike Lee’s 1997 Academy Award nominated documentary, 4 Little Girls. Justice would come 40 years after their death, when the investigation headed by Mr. Lewis led to the successful conviction of Thomas Blanton, then 63 years old. One of four KKK members responsible for the bombing, he was found guilty of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

From Birmingham, Mr. Lewis was transferred to Newark, NJ where he was again the first African-American to lead a division of 355 people. His final position before his retirement in 2005 was that of Deputy Assistant FBI Director in Charge of Criminal Investigations and Intelligence.

Making his way into the private sector, Mr. Lewis served as Senior Director of Corporate Investigations for Wal-mart’s Global Security Division. He retired, again, in 2012, to spend more time with his family.

The Reverend Martin Luther King said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and conveniences, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” There is little doubt that the professional accomplishments and personal qualities of Mr. Lewis would measure up to Dr. King’s standards of what makes an extraordinary man.

more information:

New York Times: "Bare-Knuckle Enforcement for Wal-Mart's Rules" (2007)

The Baltimore Sun: "Agent says 'time was right' for closure in 1963 bombing" (2000)

New York Times: "North Carolina Fugitive, 31, charged in clinic bombing" (1998)

CNN: "FBI reopens probe into 1963 church bombings" (1997)

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