February 11, 2021

Lowell Black History: The Lews of Lowell

Arguably the most prominent Black family in Massachusetts, the Lew family has a renowned history in Lowell and a legacy of merit going back to Barzillai Lew who served in the Revolutionary War, specifically at the Battle at Bunker Hill and the Battle of Saratoga. He was a free Black man from Groton, MA and a talented musician. Even though he was free, Barzillai had to buy his future wife’s freedom for $400.

Fast forwarding 50 years to when the City of Lowell was established, the Lew Family home was a stop on the Underground Railroad, helping hide runaway enslaved men and women.

William Lew, Barzillai’s great-grandson, grew up in Lowell and was a delegate to the 1891 Equal Rights Convention in Boston. William Lew’s children also had an impact in the Black community and history of both the City of Lowell and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. His son, Harry “Bucky” Lew, became the first person to cross the color barrier in basketball, becoming the 1st African-American Professional Basketball Player, playing for the Lowell Pawtucketville Athletic Club in the New England Basketball League, a mere 11 years after the sport was created. William’s daughter, Theresa Lew, became one of the first African-American women to teach in Massachusetts. Another of William’s sons, Gerard Lew, is the co-founder of the Chicago DuSable Museum of African-American History. 

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