Highlighting Black history: Dr. B. Robert Lewis

Dr. B. Robert Lewis took office in 1973 as the first African American Senator to serve in the Minnesota State Senate. He would go on to serve for six years, from 1973 to 1979. Dr. Lewis had moved to St. Louis Park in 1962 where he worked as a veterinarian before being elected to represent what was then district 41 in the Senate. His special legislative concerns included health, welfare, corrections, education, and finance.

While serving in the Senate, he was chair of the Finance Subcommittee on Health, Welfare and Corrections. He co-authored the Family Planning Act of 1978, which provided medical services regardless of income. This legislation continues to be built upon, including work done on it as recently as 2020. Dr. Lewis also sponsored legislation to aid victims of family violence and authored bills to continue the funding for statewide programs to help battered women and their families. There are two battered women’s shelters named after him located in Eagan and Hastings. Dr. Lewis is also known for his work in welfare and corrections as he helped create a psychiatric service for prison inmates.

The Minnesota Public Health Association on September 4, 1980, created the B. Robert Lewis Award. This award was created to honor “an elected official who has distinguished themselves in aggressive pursuit to establish and maintain health as a human right and to secure optimal community and personal health” and Dr. Lewis’ legacy.  Senate DFLers continue to look to Dr. Lewis and his legacy to guide us as we work to help all Minnesotans.

Chris Morgan