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Fred Davis

Rising to become the first black chairman of the Memphis City Council, Fred L. Davis was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on May 8, 1934. After graduating from Manassas High School in Memphis in 1953, Davis went to Tennessee State University. After he graduated in 1957 with his BS, Davis entered the Army and served in France for two years. After returning from the Army, he began pursuing his Master's Degree at Memphis State University. Before graduating with his Master's, Davis was elected to serve on the city council.

Davis opened his own insurance agency, Fred L. Davis Insurance, in 1967. The agency was one of the first African American-owned insurance agencies in the South. When the sanitation workers of Memphis went on strike in 1968, Davis was serving on the city council. Siding with the strikers, Davis urged the city to recognize their union. Over the course of several months, there was violence by the police against the strikers when they would march, and leaders from the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came to support the strike. It was this strike that brought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Memphis, where he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, and the strike ended soon thereafter. Davis later became the first African American chairman of the Memphis City Council.

Fred Davis Insurance is one of the most respected companies in Memphis, growing from a small office to a powerhouse of sales. Davis himself is very active in the community, serving on the board of directors of the Assissi Foundation, as a trustee of the Community Foundation, a director of the Memphis Leadership Foundation and a past president of the University of Memphis Society. He has been presented with the Humanitarian of the Year Award by the National Council of Christians and Jews and the Communicator of the Year Award by the Public Relations Society. Davis is married with three children and two grandchildren.

Davis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 23, 2003.

Accession Number

A2003.140

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/23/2003

Last Name

Davis

Middle Name

L.

Schools

Manassas High School

Hyde Park Elementary School

Tennessee State University

First Name

Fred

Birth City, State, Country

Memphis

HM ID

DAV10

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Tennessee

Favorite Vacation Destination

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Favorite Quote

Where there is a will, there is a way.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Tennessee

Birth Date

5/8/1934

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Memphis

Country

United States

Favorite Food

All Food

Short Description

Insurance entrepreneur and city council member Fred Davis (1934 - ) was a Memphis city council member during 1968 sanitation workers strike.

Employment

Fred L. Davis Insurance

Memphis City Council

Favorite Color

Blue, Brown

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Fred Davis' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Fred Davis lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Fred Davis discusses his family history

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Fred Davis describes his mother's background and personality

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Fred Davis describes his father's background and personality

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Fred Davis remembers the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Fred Davis recalls missing school to pick cotton

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Fred Davis remembers Pricilla Hawkins, a neighbor who had been a slave

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Fred Davis talks about the schools and church he attended growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Fred Davis describes picking and chopping cotton as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Fred Davis recalls living with his father

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Fred Davis recalls all the different jobs he had on an Arkansas cotton plantation

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Fred Davis describes his experience in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Fred Davis describes his extracurricular activities, after school jobs, and influential high school teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Fred Davis recalls how he worked in the cafeteria and at area clubs and hotels to pay for college at Tennessee State University

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Fred Davis describes starting Fred L. Davis Insurance, one of the first African American-owned insurance agencies in the South, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Fred Davis describes starting Fred L. Davis Insurance, one of the first African American-owned insurance agencies in the South, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Fred Davis remembers the racial climate of city politics in Memphis, Tennessee in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Fred Davis describes changing the Memphis, Tennessee city government in 1966.

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Fred Davis recalls his election as one of the of the first African American city councilmen in Memphis, Tennessee, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Fred Davis recalls his election as one of the of the first African American city councilmen in Memphis, Tennessee, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Fred Davis describes the racial turbulence in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Fred Davis recalls the Memphis mayoral election of 1967

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Fred Davis talks about the beginning of the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Fred Davis recalls Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. being called in to Memphis during the 1968 sanitation workers strike

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Fred Davis talks about The Invaders, a group of violent young activists in Memphis in 1968

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Fred Davis describes his role as a city councilor during the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Fred Davis describes his role as a city councilor during the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Fred Davis describes the wage increase negotiations during the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Fred Davis describes experiencing death threats after the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Fred Davis remembers learning about Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Fred Davis describes Memphis in the aftermath of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Fred Davis reflects on how Memphis has changed since the 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Fred Davis talks about why he maintains his business in the largest black neighborhood in Memphis

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Fred Davis describes efforts to promote minority economic development in Memphis, Tennessee, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Fred Davis describes efforts to promote minority economic development in Memphis, Tennessee, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Fred Davis talks about his work with FedEx when its corporate headquarters moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1972

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Fred Davis talks about his involvement in the Society of Entrepreneurs

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Fred Davis describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Fred Davis describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Fred Davis describes one of the unique aspects of his business, Fred L. Davis Insurance

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Fred Davis reflects on his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Fred Davis talks about his wife and children

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Fred Davis talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Fred Davis narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

5$3

DATitle
Fred Davis recalls his election as one of the of the first African American city councilmen in Memphis, Tennessee, pt. 1
Fred Davis recalls Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. being called in to Memphis during the 1968 sanitation workers strike
Transcript
And the [city council] district that I drew, I drew two obviously black districts and one with a slight white majority. And that's the one that I ended up running in; I had no intention of running for the city council at the time. Much later on it was a pop decision to run because I had come out and I had organized my area of town and I had solid precinct organizations that I had put together and I decided--I had an instrument and why not use it. And then I made the decision to run. But my group, the Shelby County Democratic Club did not think a black person could run against in that district and they supported a white person against me because they were afraid that I would only cause a more conservative white person to win and we would be worse off. And I won, in a runoff.$$Okay, now how did you organize people for the campaign? What technique did you use or had any experience in trying to organize people?$$Well I came to the community as a debit insurance agent working for North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company, going from door to door collecting premiums.$$The door to door sounds important.$$It is. And I worked for North Carolina Mutual five years and in the process there was not a house in this community that I had not been in and out of at least once `cause some days we'd do door to door canvassing just to try to drum up business. And I was very well liked by my policy holders. So I organized my policy holders in each precinct and we had precinct clubs made up of my policy holders in those precincts and it was probably the most tightly organized community in the Shelby County Democratic Club. I had precinct leaders and block leaders and area leaders. So I could call up a precinct leader and in a matter of an hour touched almost every house in this area.$Well at one point did--well if I may--at one point was [Reverend] Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] called into this?$$Dr. King was, was called in by the ministers.$$I had heard that Reverend [Samuel "Billy"] Kyles was the one of the--$$Billy Kyles, the other fellow out in California now--$$James Lawson?$$Jim Lawson and some others called King in. I knew Jim when he was in Vanderbilt Divinity School [Nashville, Tennessee]. He married a young woman in my class at Tennessee State [University, Nashville, Tennessee], we came the same year. We were in the same graduating class [1957]. So, Reverend--because of the way the talks were going, the ministerial group called in Reverend Kyles. There was a group called Calm Citizens Against something--I don't remember the name very well now--who was a part of that group. Dr. King was reluctant to come to Memphis. He really didn't want to get into this, but he was pressured to come and he came. You have to know that in the city of Memphis even to this day the sanitation strike--let me digress a little bit--the sanitation strike was not just a labor strike, it was a racial and civil rights activity. It opened some deep wounds that had been festering underneath for years the longer it went. But let me add to that, to this day--thirty five years later where there is a racial conflict in Memphis and the majority of people involved are African American, there is no such thing as a labor strike. Most of the time the discussion ends up in church, rallies and civil rights leaders and whatever is involved in those actions even to this day. So Dr. King came in with the best of intentions except he had no understanding of the mine field he was walking into.