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Dr. William H. Davis

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Dr. William H. Davis was a graduate of Howard University. During World War I, Dr. Davis served as Secretary to Dr. Emmett Scott, Special Assistant to the United States Secretary of War. In the 1920s, Dr. Davis served as Secretary to the Presidential Commission investigating the economic conditions in the Virgin Islands.

 

 

The Early Years

 

William Henry Davis  was born in Louisville Kentucky, February 18, 1872.  The son of former slaves Jerry and Susan Davis.  Davis graduated form Lou­isvi­lle Colored High School in June 1888 at the age of 16, second in his class of eighteen students. Davis delivered the graduat­ion address he titled, "The Dignity of Labor".

 

After graduation Davis ap­pl­ied to Louisvi­lle's Bryant and Stratton B­usi­ness Col­lege, but the dean brusquely told him the college did not admit black stu­dents. The dean explained to Davis that though the college had no intention of admitting a black student it had every intention of hiring a black janitor, and if he wanted the

job it was his.

 

Undaunt­ed by the dean's unveiled insult Davis

accepted the job immediately. He got short­hand and type­writing books from J.C. Wright, an itin­erant black tea­cher from Chicago, Illinois and quickly taught himself stenography and typ­ing by copy­ing the white stu­dents' les­sons from the school's bl­ack­ boards before he washed them each night.

 

In September 1889 the Cary & Spindle law firm employed Davis as a stenographer and typist. One of the firm's partners, Willis Overton Harris, was a former Kentucky judge who took an amused interest in Davis’ mastery of stenogra­phy and typing because he had never seen a black person with those secretarial skills. Judge Harris, equally impressed by Davis ‘ eager­ness to learn,

suggested he spend lunch hours in the firm's second-floor li­brary reading law books and reviewing case folders.

 

When Davis be­came fa­mil­iar with legal terms and procedures, he became ste­nographer in two of Louisv­ill­e's cele­brat­ed crim­inal trials - the Kilkenny mur­der case and the Cather­ine Feh­ler abo­rtion tri­al.

 

Four years later, in 1892, Thaddeus W. Spindle, one of the firm's senior partners, was appointed manager of Louisvill's branch of the Germ­ania Safety Vault and Trust Company. He hired Davis as the ban­k's stenog­rapher.  Davis found himself at the age of 21 with a good salary and a rare white-color po­si­tion in one of the cit­y's leading finan­cial in­sti­tu­tions

 

In 1895 Davis cam­paigned in the black commu­nity for a slate of Repub­lican candi­dates seeking election to Louisvill­e's City Coun­cil. Because William Davis and his family held promi­nent church offic­es it was not difficult to rally many members of the Fifth Street Baptist Church congrega­tion to support the Republicans. His older bro­ther, Leslie Davis, was Sunday school clerk and his younger brot­her,

 

John Bull Da­vis, was Sun­day school librarian.­ His sister, Rachel, taught Sun­day school and William Davis was clerk of the Young Peoples' Union and a mem­ber of the ju­nior choir.

On Election Day, in November 1895, Davis  drove voters to the polls in the same horse-drawn wagon his father, Jerry Davis, used todeliver Dr. Bull's patent medi­cines. The Republicans won control of the City Council on the strength of their faithful support from voters in the city's heavily black-popu­lated ninth and tenth wards, where Davis had organized vot­ers.

In Jan­uary 1896, Davis' own politi­cal reward was ap­point­ment as May­or Todd's pri­vate stenogra­pher and he bec­ame associate editor of Todd's week­ly black news­paper, "The Ken­tucky Sta­ndard."

In  the spring of 1896 Davis met Julia Louise Hubbard, a strikingly attractive mu­latto women. They had three children.  Davis established a commercial school division in conjunction with the Louisville Colored School System. 

 

On the new century's eve, in June 1899, William and Julia Davis, ­ pack­ed their chattel goods and with their infant children, Sara and William, boarded­ the colored car of a coal-fired train in Louisville, Kentucky. They were riding north, to­ Washing­ton, D.C., that shining city on a hill whose gleaming beacon of refuge­ and hope beckoned a generation of post Reconstruc­tion black Americans. In 1902 Howard University awarded Davis a Doctorate of Pharmacology.

 

In Washington D.C, Davis started the Mott Night business High School. The school district heard about the success of Davis ' school and asked him to become principal of Armstrong High School.

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Davis worked for the Treasury Department and became the official stenographer for the National Negro Business League.  During World War I, Dr. Davis served as Secretary to Dr. Emmett Scott, Special Assistant to the United States Secretary of War.

 

In the 1920's, Dr. Davis served as Secretary to the Presidential Commission investigating the economic conditions in the Virgin Islands.