Dolores E. Lewis, a woman with deep Southern roots who co-founded a prominent African American civic group in Sacramento, died Dec. 11 of breast cancer, her family said. She was 80.
Growing up under Jim Crow laws in the South during the Great Depression, Mrs. Lewis nevertheless thrived in a close African American community sustained by strong faith and families. As an only child in Mobile, Ala., she was nurtured by relatives who introduced her to culture and history and stressed the importance of education. She completed business school and was the first in her family who did not work as a domestic for a white household.
When she moved to California as a single mother with three children, “Someone told her that she could go on welfare, and she said, ‘No. We take care of our own,’ ” her daughter Robbin Lewis-Coaxum said. “She didn’t need public assistance. She was a very strong, dignified woman who raised us based on the culture of the South and being a very proud, Southern black woman.”
Values of service and self-reliance guided Mrs. Lewis and several other African American women who started the Kosmos Civic Club in Sacramento in 1971. The founders were part of an exodus of blacks working at military bases in the South who transferred to Northern California in the 1960s. As members of the original Kosmos club in Mobile, Ala., the women created an organization dedicated to promoting friendships and helping the community in Sacramento.
Mrs. Lewis was an active Kosmos member and leader for 42 years. She was a top ticket seller at an annual club luncheon and other events to raise money for scholarships for young people, even as cancer weakened her health in recent months.
“We had our last luncheon on Oct. 27, and she was ill at the time but was still able to get people to buy tickets,” former club President Dorothy Caston said. “She really had a passion about education and helping young people.”
Born Aug. 11, 1933, Dolores Elizabeth Harris was the fifth generation of her family in Mobile, Ala. Raised by her grandparents after her mother left to work in factories in New York, she grew up in the historic Big Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church and graduated from Allen Institute and Spalding Business College.
She began her career at Brookley Air Force Base in Mobile in 1953 and was transferred to McClellan Air Force Base in 1965. Working the night shift for many years while raising a family, she climbed the federal civil service ranks to GS-11 grade and retired in 1990. She was married since 1966 to James Paul Lewis, a retired Air Force senior master sergeant and civilian employee at McClellan.
Mrs. Lewis was a charter member of the Sacramento chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, La Beaux Arts Club and Iota Phi Lambda sorority. She belonged to the National Council of Negro Women, the NAACP and the College Glen Neighborhood Association. She sang in the choir at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Sacramento and was active for many years at Kyles Temple AME Zion Church in Sacramento.
After retiring from civil service, she enjoyed meeting people while working part time giving food demonstrations at local grocery stores. A longtime breast cancer survivor, she appeared in a Kaiser Permanente calendar of survivors and spoke out to raise awareness of the disease.
She traveled widely in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe on trips with her husband or close friends. An excellent cook, she was renowned for her dishes of gumbo and collard greens.
“Her recipes were all in her head,” her daughter said. “She never used a recipe book or measuring spoons. She just knew how to cook from what her family had taught her.”
Mrs. Lewis is survived by her husband James; four daughters, Constance McKnight, Miriam Roberson, Robbin Lewis-Coaxum and Melanie Lewis; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A memorial is set for noon Friday, Dec. 20, at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, 3996 14th Ave., Sacramento. Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.