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Murder of Groton Man In 1975 Resonates In Today’s Racial Politics

by Russell Harris
On March 6, 1975 a 25 year-old Groton man was gunned down in an inner-city Philadelphia parking lot at 6 am, having just finished his overnight shift driving a Yellow Cab. He was shot in the chest and pelvis. Police said robbery was not a motive since "a sum of $2 and a watch were found on his person."
     In 1969 -- when only 20 -- this young Groton man dropped out of Yale because he was "dissatisfied with the education he was receiving" at the Ivy League school. In 1971, two years after leaving Yale, he joined an Afro-American Islamic religious society in Philadelphia, converted to Islam and became the only white member of the religious society.
     This man, David S. Lewis, was the youngest son of Dr. Woodward "Woody" Lewis and Dr. Elizabeth "Betty" Lewis, respected members of Groton living in an expansive colonial-era home at 164 Main Street. When joining the Islamic church and converting to Islam, he changed his name to Hanif Ben Abdul-Rahman.
     The Lowell Sun described the Islamic Society he joined as one of "four or five Muslim or Black Muslim sects in the North Philadelphia ghetto." The same March 10 article said that he had "reportedly been suspended from the Muslim order a few weeks prior to his murder having reportedly become disillusioned with the order," though his commitment to the Muslim religion remained strong.
     On March 10, 1975 the Sun reported that Muslims from inner-city Philadelphia came to Groton for his funeral, dressed in long white Islamic garments and red and white fezzes. Along with friends and family there were Muslim mourners from Fitchburg and Boston.
     The Lowell Sun reported that although a group from his group "took part in the services, it was a rival group that washed his body and placed it in a two-piece seamless robe, the Muslim garment of pilgrimage, before it was flown to Groton."
During the Islamic part of the service, the eulogy was given by Abiu-Bakh Ali, imam of the religious group. According to the Lowell Sun article, he [Lewis] worked at the O.V. Catto elementary school in Philadelphia as a librarian and tutored local residents in mathematics in his spare time. He formed Boy Scout Troop 610 so he could work with youth. In addition he served as a Republican committeeman for the 12th division, I6th ward of Philadelphia.
     He was Minister of Health for his Muslim group and worked as a clerk in the emergency room at the Graduate Hospital at the University Hospital of Pennsylvania. He had applied to several graduate schools of medicine after graduating with a degree in biology with a special commendation from University of Pennsylvania that December.
     He described the conditions which made him want to become a physician in a graduate school application, writing, “Coming to eat, drink, and sleep with . . . constant noise, constant people, constant violence, and constant deterioration . . . Small wonder when the physician’s absence is questioned, that the standard replies come forth in terms of lack of personal reward and gratification, or at best come as rebuttals of service clinics.”
     He continued, “The malnutritioned baby crying on the steps, the child with a large protruding hernia playing in the gutter water, the bowlegged girl passing on the far side of the street, the clubfoot youth hugging the corner shadows . . surely their basic health-needs can-be met by the physician.
     “Beyond this veil of despair, a strong-willed, spirited people struggle with humor and sweat striving to overcome the ghetto mentality and working to better their communities, their streets, their homes, their health and theirlives..I was and am one of those striving people. As a doctor I could be more effective.”
     Abdul-Rahman earned the title "Hajji" because he had made the hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca, which every Muslim is supposed to make if he is able. He made the hajj in 1973 and was a guest of the King of Saudi Arabia during his visit. Therefore, his full name as it appears on his gravestone in Groton cemetery is: Hajji Hanif Ben Abdul-Rahman.
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