The Pride of Napoleon Lewis

A veteran principal brought hope and self-respect to South Dallas' Lincoln High. But even some of his loyal followers say it's time for him to step down.

"He is learning that racist stuff at home, because he doesn't learn it here," Lewis told Martin. Lewis instructed Lamb to begin expulsion proceedings immediately. And Lewis saw to it that someone walked Martin to her car every day.

On April 12, the boy's mother brought him back to school, and he weepily apologized to Martin. She said she accepted the apology, but was shocked to learn that the boy had not been expelled or placed in another school. What's more, Lamb, who is white, had informed her that the boy would be returning to campus. He assured her the boy would not come into contact with her in any way. (Lamb wouldn't return several phone calls from the Observer.)

They agreed that the student would be placed in a separate building for the remainder of the school year, and would not be allowed to enter the main building. "Under no circumstances was this student to be in the building where I worked," Martin recalls. "That was the agreement on Friday." If he violated the agreement--Lamb warned the student--he would be expelled.

But the very next Monday, Martin noticed Kevin standing in a front hallway of the main building. A coach escorted him out of the building.

Lamb, after hearing about the breach, promised to begin expulsion proceedings for the student. But two weeks later, the boy was still there. On May 6, Lamb informed Martin that Kevin would be returning to her class on May 13 to review for finals. "The boy deserves an education," Martin says Lamb told her.

Lewis, Martin believes, was not aware that Lamb had failed to expel the student; the principal's lack of input in the case bothered the young teacher. (Lewis would not discuss the incident.)

That afternoon, as Martin walked to her car, she heard someone calling her name. "I look around, and it's Kevin waving his arms and screaming, 'Hello, Miss Martin! Hello, Miss Martin!' Then he starts to walk the other way, but then turns, walks in front of my car, stops, stares at me, snickers, and turns away."

Later, Lamb asked her if she was sure the boy wasn't just being friendly. "The kid he knew was a baby," Martin says. "I told him that the sobbing Kevin was an act--that the real Kevin was completely unremorseful. And frankly, why wouldn't he be? Because he hadn't been punished. Kids are going to get away with what they can get away with, and at Lincoln they can get away with murder."

On her exit interview at the district level, Martin told Dr. Robert Bourdene, a psychologist employed as DISD's director of employee relations, that she left Lincoln because she feared for her safety and because she refused to be harassed by a 14-year-old boy.

She learned during that meeting that Lamb never required the student to see the school psychologist, who drops in on campus once a week. School administrators never gauged the seriousness of the boy's threats against Martin. "There was just Dr. Lamb saying this kid is 14 years old, and give him a break--against my word and the kid's admission that he had threatened to kill me," Martin says.

Martin called for a substitute on May 7, a day after learning the student would return to her class. She then picked up her personal belongings and quit Lincoln. Another teacher helped her carry her things to the car.

"These are tough kids, aren't they?" the other teacher asked in sympathy.
"It's not the kids," Martin responded. "It's the administration."

Lewis' supporters say they overlook the principal's gruff demeanor because they know his motivations are good, and because he knows what he's doing. "He wants people to stick by the rules," says former Lincoln substitute teacher Rozyland Pinkerton. "And yes, he may get on the loudspeaker, and yes, he has an authoritative voice, and no, we may not like it, but he's right."

As a token of its appreciation, the district named Lincoln's math and science annex after Lewis in the spring of 1995. The old building has undergone an $800,000 renovation, and has been equipped with modern lab equipment. It is one of the few public buildings in Dallas dedicated to a living person. The new classrooms were named after teachers who taught there during the days of Jim Crow, such as A.W. Brashear and Dr. Mamie McKnight.

Lewis is proud of the annex. "We have everything right up to date," he says. "In the labs, they have a cat for every child, all the best tools. Those children are learning things that I didn't learn in college. It's got all those sacrosanct types of things that Anglos are always trying to reserve for themselves."

Lewis, who does not suffer the media gladly, declined to discuss his teachers' specific concerns with the Observer. And he simply rejects the criticism that he is racist.

He doesn't mind talking about his son, Rod Lewis, however, who just joined the Houston Oilers, or the horses Lewis plans to buy for his farm. When asked if his wife would prefer that he retire, Lewis says, "I'm my own person. I still have all my vital organs."

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