|Pensole Lewis College started out being named Lewis College of Business and was founded at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1928 by Violet T. Lewis, a double minority—an African-American female. Dr. Lewis was possessed with the idea of providing education at the post- secondary level in office occupations, for African-American young adults in Indianapolis, Indiana. Due to the segregation laws at that time, the private and public post-secondary schools in Indiana did not accept African-American students.
Lewis Business College, later reorganized as Lewis College of Business, not only offered an educational experience to those seeking training; but, also Lewis Business College felt the commitment and responsibility to financially assist those students who desired an education but lacked the financial resources. Lewis Business College was incorporated in 1941 by the Michigan Corporation and Securities Commission, with the cumbersome name of Lewis Association for the Study and Practical Application of Business and Commercial Science. The first Board of Directors consisted of Horace A. White, Board Chairman, Carlton Gaines, Eugie West, Louis Harrison, Beatrice Preston, Violet Lewis, Secretary/Treasurer, and Albert Chenault. Dr. White served as the Chairman of the Board until his death in 1958.
In 1958, Lyman Burris, president of a Detroit accounting firm, was elected as Board Chair, and he served until 1962. Following the death of Mr. Burris, Ms. Phyllis Ponders, daughter of the school’s founder, was elected as the Chairperson of the Board and served in that capacity until 1978. Dr. Marjorie Harris was elected to the office of president in 1968. During Dr. Harris’s administration, the Board of Directors and the school administration set for themselves the task of accomplishing one of the Institution’s long-range objectives of achieving junior college status.
The movement for regional accreditation started in 1975, and Lewis College of Business received accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) in 1978 as a junior college. The College’s accreditation status was reaffirmed in 1982 and 1987, 1990, 1995 and 2001. In August, 2007, the Higher Learning Comminsion (HLC), a commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, determined that Lewis College of Business no longer met their criteria for accreditation. As such the Board of Directors of the HLC withdrew Lewis College of Business’ accreditation. Subsequent to legal action initiated by Lewis College of Business, HLC agreed that Lewis would be able to begin the re-accreditation process after January 1, 2008.
The Plan of Merger for Lewis Business College and Lewis College of Business was submitted to, and approved by, the Michigan Corporation and Securities Commission. The final objective in the establishment of the College was achieved April 1978, by the merger of Lewis Business College with Lewis College of Business, the collegiate entity.
Lewis College of Business was designated by the US Secretary of Education as a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in 1987. This designation was granted by the United States Secretary of Education. As such, Lewis College of Business is the only Historically Black College in Michigan. Lewis joined Cheyney State University, and Lincoln University, Pennsylvania; Wilberforce University and Central State University Ohio; and Central State University, Ohio; as one of the HBCU’s in the northern region of the United States. The State of Michigan has recognized the historical significance of the College. In September 1988 the Michigan Historical Commission erected a Michigan historical marker at the first permanent site of the College at John R and Ferry streets in Detroit, Michigan.
In 2013, due to a difficult economic time and enrollment decline, the school closed in 2013.
In 2020 with the help of Dr. D'Wayne Edwards, founder of the Pensole Footwear Design Academy, talk of reopening the school became active with business leaders. In 2021, Dr. Edwards became a majority stakeholder in the school and reopened under its new name of Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design. The school is operating in a partnership with the College for Creative Studies while it works to obtain a new accreditation, campus, and legal & legislative approval to officially reopen.