Thomas Lewis (activist)
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Thomas P. Lewis
March 17, 1940
Uniontown, Pennsylvania, United States
|Died||April 8, 2008 (aged 68)|
Worcester, Massachusetts, United States
|Resting place||Conscientious Objectors Cemetery|
|Alma mater||Mount Saint Joseph High School|
|Known for||The Catonsville Nine and other peace activism|
|Parent(s)||John Albert Lewis|
Lewis was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated from the Catholic Mount Saint Joseph High School there and took courses at several universities in Baltimore, as well as studying art informally with Earl Hofmann and Joe Sheppard. Before his career as an activist he also visited Italy and was inspired by works in the Uffizi Gallery.
Lewis traced his life in activism back to a protest against the segregated Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in 1963, which he had intended on sketching as a journalist for Catholic publications before feeling compelled to participate. He subsequently joined the CORE, the Prince of Peace Plowshares, and developed close ties with the Catholic Worker Movement. His art became political accordingly, without severing ties with his religious background; in one example, in 1965 he made a woodcut of an antiwar speech Pope Paul VI made at the United Nations.
In the late 60s, he was involved in "actions" against the war, first as the Baltimore Four, who poured blood on draft files at the Baltimore Customs House in 1967. On October 27, 1967, the "Baltimore Four" (Lewis; Christian anarchist Philip Berrigan; poet, teacher and writer David Eberhardt; and United Church of Christ missionary and pastor, the Reverend James L. Mengel) poured blood (blood from several of the four, but additionally blood purchased from the Gay St. Market: poultry blood, according to the FBI, used by the Polish for soup) on Selective Service records in the Baltimore Customs House. Mengel agreed to the action and donated blood, but decided not to actually pour blood; instead he distributed the paperback Good News for Modern Man (a version of the New Testament) to draft board workers, newsmen, and police. As they waited for the police to arrive and arrest them, the group passed out Bibles and calmly explained to draft board employees the reasons for their actions.
Catonsville Nine and prison
While on trial for this protest, Lewis engaged in a more daring one with the Catonsville Nine, who "napalmed" draft files in Catonsville, Maryland. One week later he was sentenced to six years in federal prison for the Baltimore Four protest, and in November 1968 to another three and a half years for the Catonsville Nine. He was ultimately released in 1971, serving out his sentence chiefly at the minimum-security prison farm at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary.
While in prison Lewis continued to produce art, including over one hundred portraits of his fellow inmates, which he always produced in duplicate to allow his subjects to keep one themselves. The culmination of his work there was a portfolio of etchings, The Trial and Prison, published in fifty copies to raise funds for the movement in 1969, while Lewis was briefly out on appeal. Produced in a prison art studio Lewis had to share with mafia members (for whom it doubled as stash house for smuggled wine and spaghetti), at times using ink of his own concoction from ashes, coffee or cocoa powder, the etchings depict the psychic distress of his fellow inmates and ghostly, near apocalyptic confrontations between police and protestors. The text was written by Lewis, and the cover printed by Corita Kent.
Lewis was a well-known artist throughout the Worcester area, running printmaking workshops at the Worcester Art Museum for almost twenty years. Many of his pieces still survive in galleries and archives throughout the USA. He was an art teacher at Anna Maria College, and he taught printmaking at the Cambridge School of Weston, and Worcester Art Museum. Baltimore artist Earl Hofmann instructed Lewis in art during the 1960s.
Lewis was a memorable figure in the "radical Catholic" movement for his combination of art and activism; for example, Daniel Berrigan described his art as "…a poignant and powerful witness to the survival of the endangered conscience…. He heals the ancient split between ethics and imagination."
The day after the invasion of Iraq on March 21, 2003, Tom Lewis and 17 other activists using the PeaceChain blocked the Natick Chemical Weapons Research Laboratory and were arrested. Mr. Lewis spoke eloquently before the Judge during the trial about the consequences of the invasion. He, along with the other members of PeaceChain 18, was convicted for illegal trespass and disturbing the peace. The direct action was organized by the Peace Abbey of Sherborn, MA.
He dearly loved his family, and they became a huge part of his life. He often said that his pride and glory was his daughter, Nora Lewis Borbely, and that she was by far his greatest accomplishment. Lewis died at age 68 in his sleep on April 4, 2008. A portion of Tom's cremated remains is buried at the Conscientious Objectors cemetery on the grounds of the Pacifist Memorial in Sherborn, MA.
- Berrigan, Daniel (1970). The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-0549-5.
- Berrigan, Daniel (1983). 'Nightmare of God. Portland: Sunburst Press. ISBN 0-934648-08-5.
- Lynd, Straughton; & Lynd, Alice (Eds.) (1995). Nonviolence in America: A Documentary History. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
- Arthur Jones (23 May 1997). "For 30 years: art, civil disobedience, jail - activist Tom Lewis-Borbely". National Catholic Reporter.
- Dowty, Morgan. "Incendiary Etchings: Tom Lewis and the Catonsville Nine," Art in Print, Vol. 7 No. 3 (September–October 2017).
- United States v. Eberhardt, 417 F.2d 1009 (4th Cir. 1969)
- Melville v. State, 268 A.2d 497, 10 Md. App. 118 (Ct. Spec. App. 1970)
- William Strabala; Michael Palecek (2002). Prophets without honor: a requiem for moral patriotism. Algora Publishing. pp. 57–61.
- Joe Tropea (14 May 2008). "Hit and Stay: The Catonsville Nine and Baltimore Four Actions Revisited". City Paper. Archived from the original on 10 July 2014.
- United States v. Eberhardt, 417 F.2d 1009 (4th Cir. 1969)
- Scott Schaeffer-Duffy. "Tom Lewis-An Artist-Activist". Archive for the ‘Nonviolent Resisters’ Category. Retrieved 14 May 2012.