Fannie Lewis was a strong advocate of the school voucher program, leading several demonstrations in Columbus and Washington, D.C., and her stance garnered national attention.
Lewis was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Lewis met and married her husband, Carlee Lewis at the age of 19. Fannie Lewis, who worked in laundry and as a cosmetologist in Memphis, moved to Cleveland with her husband in 1951. Carlee started a trucking business, while Fannie pressed shirts at a local dry cleaner’s. Immediately following the Hough riot in 1966, Lewis first gained public attention when she was photographed talking to some of the roughly 1,700 National Guard troops that were dispatched to the neighborhood to restore order. After the riot Lewis took a more active role in the community when she became a recruiter for Neighborhood Youth Corps, a project to help people find work. In 1969 she was promoted to a recruitment coordinator position with the organization.
Lewis was first elected to City Council in the fall of 1979 and she began her first term in 1980. It was her second attempt at the position; she ran unsuccessfully for election to the City Council in 1976. Lewis attempted to stop the demolition of public housing in Cleveland in 1982 and claimed that “We’ve survived the rats, the roaches and the riots, and we will survive Reaganomics.” Lewis was a major supporter of a school voucher program in Cleveland because she believed it gave children the opportunity to attend a better school.
Among her achievements were the construction of Lexington Village, hundreds of town houses on Hough Avenue, and Crawford Estates, a cul-de-sac of homes on Crawford Avenue; the renovation of the Eliza Bryant Center, a nursing home that primarily serves blacks; and the building of expensive new homes that residents sometimes referred to as “Fannie’s mansions.”