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Birmingham Times Founder Dr. Jesse J. Lewis Sr. Inducted into NABJ Hall of Fame

Birmingham Times founder and publisher emeritus, Jesse J. Lewis Sr. during his acceptance speech after being inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

By Nicole S. Daniel

The Birmingham Times

Dr. Jesse J. Lewis Sr., founder and publisher emeritus of The Birmingham Times and renowned businessman, on Friday was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Sheraton Hotel.

The induction was held during the NABJ’s Convention and Career Fair and included the induction of AL.com columnist and director of content development, Roy S. Johnson, and five others.

Lewis said he was happy to have the recognition by a group of national journalists in his hometown.

“I am so pleased they brought this event to Birmingham, and I am so pleased that I participated,” he said.

At age 98, the Birmingham businessman has built up an impressive career. He founded the Birmingham Times in 1964 at the height of the Civil Rights struggle in Birmingham. By then he had already established the country’s first Black-owned PR and advertising agency, which he opened in 1954. A World War II veteran, Lewis made history as the first Black Alabama Cabinet Member.

Through the years, he has owned or been part of at least 17 different businesses, including ventures in real estate, a recording studio, music publishing, a golf course, radio and television stations, grocery stores, and night clubs.

In 2019, he was inducted into the Birmingham Business Hall of Fame. And last year, Mayor Randall Woodfin presented to Lewis the 2022 Lifetime Achievement from the Vulcan Park Foundation.

When he first found out about the NABJ Hall of Fame award Lewis told the audience he joked “where am I going to put it?”

Lewis added “I am so pleased that I decided to work with this organization and accept what they offered … I am going to work on a project and honor the group that lives in Birmingham who put this project on. They deserve to be honored and I am so pleased that I am here to help them get honored.”

During Lewis’s acceptance speech he told the audience he still wakes up daily to work the same way he has throughout his career.

“I’ve always wanted to be rich. I was born to be rich. I cried every day to be rich. I work hard, three jobs to get rich. I got bad news for you, I’m not rich yet,” Lewis laughed.

The Hall of Fame Induction and Luncheon was powered by Hope Credit Union and Coca-Cola Bottling United.

In addition to Lewis, Johnson, who arrived in Birmingham in 2014 began his acceptance speech by saying “Birmingham you owe me nothing,”

AL.com’s Roy S. Johnson during his acceptance speech after being inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

“First and foremost, congratulations to all of the honorees today. My fellow inductees especially the esteemed Dr. Jesse L. Lewis.”

To be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the city of Birmingham this year was special, said Johnson, who attended his first NABJ conference in in Dallas, he said.

“Thank you to all of the journalists I’ve engaged with along the way,” he said. “Thank you to all that lifted me and those who leveled me when necessary.”

“I accept this honor grateful to all of you who walked alone with as a friend, competitor, as a mentee or a mentor. My pastor tells us to walk into any room like God sent you.”

Johnson ended his speech with “to all of my fellow journalists I hope someday you find yourselves on this stage. Walk into your newsroom like God sent you and NABJ is with you.”