Rev. Venita Lewis
Pioneer Civil Rights activist

Venita Lewis

Rev. Venita D. Lewis is by far the most active female Civil Rights activist in the city. Rev. Lewis moved to Nashville in 1983 to pursue a career in country music. Lewis was introduced to the late great Curlie McGruder, and that introduction built and bonded a friendship that lasted until Mrs. McGruder’s death in December 1993.

“The hardest thing for me to do was sing ‘Soon I will be Done with the Troubles of this World’ at my friend and mentor’s funeral,” said Lewis.

“I learned from Mrs. McGruder how to stand for what I believe in. ‘It’s okay to stand alone, just put it in God’s hand and stand.’ This what Curlie would say to me.

“It was also an opportunity to be the mistress of ceremonies at the ribbon cutting of the C. E. McGruder Learning Center.

“I joined the NAACP in 1983, and I am a Life Member today. I was one of the youngest at the table in 1988 when a group of leaders met and planned the first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which was held January 17, 1989. I was also honored to be one of the speakers at the first MLK Day March.

“I marched with Jesse Jackson in the March on Washington. It was a memorable experience.”

Rev. Lewis marched in Forsyth, Georgia, January 1987. Dr. Hosea Williams led the march, and the Nashville NAACP took a bus to Forsyth, Ga.

“The bus was first come, first serve.”

Rev. Lewis said many of the boarders were not African Americans, and not a part of the NAACP.

“Mrs. McGruder tried to get me a seat, but the bus was simply full,” said Lewis. “I was approached by two Vanderbilt students who could not ride the bus to Forsyth, and they encouraged me to drive, so that they would have a ride.

“It was a scary experience, as there were Klansmen everywhere in Forsyth in their sheets. At points I feared for my life.

“Upon my return, the riders left a brief case in my vehicle, and it was only then that I realized that the two Caucasian young men were members of the KKK!

“There I met Coretta Scott King, Vernon Jordan, Dick Gregory, Andrew Young and many other civil rights legends. I also had the opportunity to help lead the freedom songs.”

In 2007, Rev. Lewis had the opportunity to sing at the 40th celebration of the death of Dr. King in Memphis, Tennessee.

“It was rewarding to have a seat beside Rev. Al Sharpton,” said Lewis.

Rev. Venita Lewis single handedly fought the country music industry.

“I started the Minority Country Music Association in 1996,” said Lewis. “The Association brought Black country artists from around the United Stated.  We held showcases at the Blue Bird Café, and the Paradise Lounge. I worked with Kwame Lillard and featured Black country artists at the African Street Festival.

“I met with Mr. Tom Collins, Barbara Mandrell’s producer and Buddy Killen of Tree Publishing to seek to improve opportunities for African Americans in country music. Some of the opportunities that African American artists are enjoying today are because the Association fought to change the country music industry.”

Rev. Lewis organized the first Juneteenth celebration in the city of Nashville.

“When I came to Nashville, no one had heard of Juneteenth,” said Rev. Lewis. “This holiday was traditionally a Texas holiday. As a Texan, I grew up celebrating the holiday.”

Rev. Lewis also helped to feed students at TSU when they protested the housing conditions on campus.

“I worked with Councilman Mansfield Douglas in the Jeremy Bryant Case,” said Lewis. “This young man was jailed in the first school shooting at John Trotwood Middle School.”

Rev. Lewis led freedom songs in Murfreesboro when the Klansmen marched July 4, 1987.

“We addressed the police chief concerning the unfair slaying of Jackie Brooks,” said Rev. Lewis. “Jackie Brooks was one of the first Black women killed by a police officer in the city of Nashville.

“We walked 13 miles from Clarksville to the Army Base at Fort Campbell with Rev. Jernigan, president of NAACP, Clarksville, in the slaying of an African American Army sergeant who went AWOL and was shot in the back.

Rev. Lewis marched in Miami, Florida in the killing of Trayvon Martin, and she supported the community efforts in the unjust slaying of Sandra Bland, in Texas. Lewis also assisted in the organizing of a NAACP Chapter in Bay City, Texas.

Rev. Lewis received a ‘certificate of honor’ from drug czar, William Bennett.

“I organized rallies and activities to bring awareness of drugs in our communities” said Lewis. “We were a part of Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ program.

“There were many, many experiences over the years, including the opportunity of meeting Rosa Parks and Maya Angelou.

“I thank Rev. James ‘Tex’ Thomas; Dr. Dogan William; Mrs. C. E. McGruder; Rev. Marcel Keller; Rev. James Turner; Rev. Wallace Charles Smith; Tenn. state Rep. Harold Love, Sr.; Dr. Jamie Williams; Rev. Enoch Fuzz; and many others from whom I learned and who gave me the courage to continue in spite of adversity.”

In keeping with her calling to help the children, men and the community, Rev. Lewis is working with  ‘KEVA Inc.’ (Keeping Every Vision Alive), a non-profit organization that will be hosting their annual Silence the Violence March on March 23 at Jefferson Street Baptist Church from 10 am to 5 pm.

Rev. Venita Lewis is returning to what brought her to Nashville, and will be releasing her first country song titled ‘Nashville, Tennessee’ under the name of ‘Nita Lou’ in March 2020.

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