Houston was one of four children born to Ned and Lucy Houston of Chilton County. He moved to the booming city of Birmingham in 1883 and worked as a porter and car coupler on the railroads before being hired to work at the L & N Roundhouse on the Railroad Reservation between 16th and 17th Streets. He was supervised by foreman C. F. Giles.
Houston was accused on November 23 that year of having assaulted a white woman. Birmingham Police officers took him into custody at the roundhouse and brought him to the Birmingham City Jail on 3rd Alley North near 19th Street.
It being a Friday evening, word of the prisoner circulated among the busy saloons and gaming houses and sentiments of disgust were soon kindled into violent intent. Rowdy men and onlookers alike began to gather outside the jail. A group armed with pistols managed to break Houston out and drag him toward Capitol Park. A reporter for the Birmingham Iron Age was on hand to describe the events.
The mob's leaders ordered Houston to confess to rape. He responded by pledging, "Gentleman, before God, I didn’t do it.". Unsatisfied, he was hanged by a rope from a pine tree in the park. His last word were reportedly, "Jesus, take me home."
Attorney, Civil Rights activist and militia leader James A. Scott attempted to lead black residents in a general protest against lynch mobs. In response, Mayor A. O. Lane raised the white Birmingham Rifles and Birmingham Artillery to restore order by armed patrol. The effect was generally to disperse any gatherings of black people. No one was ever charged with any crime in connection with Houston's death. He was buried in a pauper's grave at Oak Hill Cemetery.
In 2019 the Jefferson County Memorial Project researched the circumstances of Houston's death, which it calls the first of 30 documented lynchings in Birmingham. The group has proposed erecting a monument at the site of the hanging, in today's Linn Park, as part of a larger project by the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative to memorialize the victims of lynchings across the United States.
- "The Lynching of Lewis Houston" (November 27, 1883) The Atlanta Constitution p. 2
- "Rumors of Lawlessness" (November 29, 1883) The Birmingham Iron Age. p. 3
- Cantu, Madelyn Lisette (February 27, 2019) "Lewis Houston, Nov. 24, 1883, Linn Park" BirminghamWatch
- 30 Victims at jeffersoncountymemorial.com