Alumnus Receives National Humanities Medal

Photo courtesy of PBS News Hour

President Joe Biden presented the National Humanities Medal to Dr. Earl Lewis ’78, professor at the University of Michigan and founding director of the Center for Social Solutions, in a ceremony at the White House on March 21, 2023.

Lewis is the former chair of Concordia’s Board of Regents and, along with Fay Ferguson ’73, established the college’s Diversity Student Endowed Scholarship.

Since 1996, 206 National Humanities Medals have been bestowed to 190 individuals and 16 organizations. The National Humanities Medal honors an individual or organization whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the human experience, broadened citizens’ engagement with history or literature, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to cultural resources.

The president’s military aide read Lewis’ citation: “For writing America’s history and shaping America’s future as a social historian and academic leader, Earl Lewis has made vital contributions to the field of Black history educating generations of students while also being a leading voice for greater diversity in academia and our nation.”

View the full ceremony — The president’s remarks are at 20:40 and Lewis’ award is presented at 38 minutes.

Amy Tan, author of “The Joy Luck Club,” poet and author Richard Blanco, and author Walter Isaacson were among the other recipients of the medal. View the full list of 12 recipients on the National Endowment for the Humanities site. The 2021 National Medals of Arts were also presented at the same ceremony. Among the recipients of that award were Gladys Knight, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Bruce Springsteen. 

Lewis is professor of history and Afroamerican and African studies, an esteemed scholar, and the author of several books. He previously was the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. A native of Tidewater, Va., Lewis earned his B.A. degree in history and psychology from Concordia College and a doctorate in history from the University of Minnesota.