Sir W Arthur Lewis: why a Google Doodle is celebrating London School of Economics’ first Black faculty member
Esteemed economist and professor Sir W Arthur Lewis is being celebrated by Google with a Doodle on the search engine’s homepage.
The illustration, which shows the professor in front of a school blackboard with “Google” written in chalk behind him, honours Lewis 41 years after he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics.
So who was Sir W Arthur Lewis, and why is he thought to be one of the pioneers of modern economics?
When was he born?
Lewis was born in St Lucia, a British Colony at the time, on 23 January 1915 to school teacher parents, who were immigrants from Antigua.
An intelligent child, he excelled in school, and managed to complete the entire curriculum by the age of 14.
After school, he worked as a clerk in the civil service and his initial career aspiration was to be an engineer.
How did Lewis become an economist?
Lewis switched his career path to economics because the government and white-owned businesses in the West Indies refused to hire Black engineers.
In 1932, when he was old enough to sit the exam, Lewis won a government scholarship to study at the London School of Economics.
It was at LSE where he discovered economics was his passion.
Lewis has said he originally intended to study business administration before travelling back to St Lucia, as racial bans there at the time meant black men could only study to be a lawyer or doctor.
He explained in his biography: “I did not want to be a lawyer or a doctor. I wanted to be an engineer, but this seemed pointless since neither the government nor the white firms would employ a Black engineer.”
Lewis didn’t know what economics entailed at the beginning of his degree, but he went on to earn a doctorate, after his BsC degree, in industrial economics.
His time as a professor
The economist then made history as the first Black faculty member at LSE, working there until 1948.
He was then selected as a lecturer at the University of Manchester, moving there with his family and becoming a full professor at the age of 33.
Lewis taught at Manchester until 1957. During his time at the university, he carried out some of his most important and celebrated research.
In 1963, Lewis moved to the US as he was appointed as a full professor at the prestigious Princeton University, once again breaking barriers to become the first Black person to do so.
There, he taught generations of students for twenty years and published multiple research articles and books about economic models in developing countries.
A Nobel Prize winner
Throughout his professional career, Lewis also served as an economic advisor to African and Caribbean governments, including Nigeria, Ghana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Barbados.
Lewis served as an economic advisor to numerous African, Asian and Caribbean governments, namely - Nigeria, Ghana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Barbados.
When Ghana became independent in 1957, the government made Lewis its first economic advisor and he helped to draw up the first five-year development plan.
In 1959, Lewis was appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies.
And in 1963, he was knighted by the British government for his career achievements.
But Lewis’ greatest achievement was jointly winning the Nobel Prize on 10 December 1979 for his pioneering work in modelling the economics of developing countries.
When did he die?
Lewis retired from his incredible economics career in 1983.
He died when he was 76 years old, on 15 June 1991, and was buried at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College in St Lucia - a university named after him.