Coleman leaves a legacy

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By Nathan L. McBroom

Hours before Rev. Lewis Coleman Jr. died, he was preparing a sermon that he hoped would challenge the people of his Shelbyville congregation to take a stand for justice.

But on Saturday afternoon, just hours before the service was to begin, Coleman died from a seizure attack. He was 64.

Coleman fought for social justice for close to 40 years. In that time he organized hundreds of protests across the state on issues ranging from inequalities in hiring practices to the need for more gun control.

Coleman's wife, Etta Murphy-Coleman, said her husband will be remembered for his unrelenting commitment to social justice.

"He was just a very driven man," she said.

Coleman, a Louisville native, graduated from Central High School in 1961. He graduated from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary with a Masters of Divinity degree.

His first church was Shelby Congregational Methodist Church in Shelbyville. That's where he met Etta.

In 1974, Coleman established the Justice Resource Center in Louisville.

Since the center's establishment, Coleman, along with a faithful band of supporters, have spent most every weekend in marches and protests, battling what he saw as injustices and discrimination against minorities.

While the protests have caused some to look at Coleman negatively, Etta said Coleman was largely misunderstood by the public.

She credits Coleman with helping ensure equal job opportunities for minorities and bringing issues of discrimination to light.

Etta, a Shelbyville native, said while most of Coleman's work was done in Louisville, he had a special affinity for Shelby County.

"It was always his goals and desire to see things made better for the people of Shelbyville, especially the people of Martinsville," she said.

Among things Coleman did for the community, Etta cited the community center in Martinsville and numerous local food and educational programs for children.

Locally, Coleman protested at the Shelby County School Board, Shelbyville City Hall, Shelbyville Police Station and the Sentinel-News.

In a 2001 interview with the Sentinel News, Coleman said the community is close to his heart.

"Shelbyville is where I consider home. It's where I want to be buried," Coleman said.

Coleman will get his wish on Friday.

Etta said while Coleman's work did a lot of good, his unceasing pace led to poor health.

After being having his first seizure attack, Coleman was rushed to the hospital. However, about an hour after arriving, Etta said he began to feel better.

"He said he was feeling better and then said, 'I think I'm ready to go home.' But I never dreamed it would be that home," she said.

Within an hour Coleman had another attack and died.

Etta said while Coleman accomplished a lot, "there is a lot of work left undone."

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday, July 11 at Canaan Christian Church. Visitation will be 4-8 p.m. on Wednesday at Clay Street Baptist Church. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, four sons and 18 grandchildren.