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Augustine Davis

Augustine Davis, survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor and pioneering black pharmacist, was born on November 19, 1917, in LaGrange, Texas. His early years were spent helping his family with farm work. Aware of the lack of medical attention available to his family, Davis desired to become a doctor. When he graduated in 1936 from Taylor High School in Taylor, Texas, Davis needed money to attend college, but he was unable to find a working scholarship available for any of the black colleges.

To finance his college education, Davis enlisted in the U.S. Army’s segregated black 25th Infantry, which recruiters told him was the only armed black unit in the Army. After a three-year stint, he still needed tuition money, so he enlisted in the still-segregated U.S. Navy. The pay from the U.S. Navy was a little higher, though all black recruits were assigned special duty in the messman branch. However, Davis’ naval duty, which superseded special duty, was that of a gunner.

At daybreak, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese military launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Davis rushed to his gun as the enemy opened fire on the U.S.S. Breese. One plane flew so low that Davis could see the pilot’s face. His loaders never reached him, but somehow Davis loaded his gun and fired back, only to see planes disappear into clouds of smoke. His gun was the only one on the Breese to get into action, but Davis received no citations for valor. He went on to see combat duty in other pivotal engagements, including the Battle of Midway. Davis was placed in charge of a battery aboard the U.S.S. Essex, which consisted of four anti-aircraft machine guns, all manned by black men.

After the war, Davis attended Ohio State University and earned his B.S. degree in pre-medicine, then graduated from the Ohio State College of Pharmacy – one of few blacks to have done so. Davis retired after a long professional career. He has two daughters, six grandchildren and two siblings. He lived with his wife, Gwendolyn, in Montclair, New Jersey.

Davis passed away on July 5, 2014.

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Pharmacist and sailor Augustine Davis (1917 - 2014 ) was a World War II Navy gunner and Pearl Harbor survivor. After the war, Davis attended Ohio State University and earned his B.S. degree in pre-medicine, then graduated from the Ohio State College of Pharmacy, one of the few blacks to have done so at the time.


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<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Augustine Davis interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Augustine Davis's favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Augustine Davis describes his family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Augustine Davis describes his mother's background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Augustine Davis recalls the racial climate of the La Grange, Texas of his youth</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Augustine Davis describes his family structure growing up</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Augustine Davis reflects on his youth in La Grange, Texas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Augustine Davis discusses the history of Native American/black relations in the U.S.</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Augustine Davis reflects on his school life</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Augustine Davis recalls leaving home at age sixteen</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Augustine Davis recalls his false imprisonment in Katy, Texas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Augustine Davis describes his beginnings in the U.S. military</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Augustine Davis reviews his educational pursuits while in the U.S. military</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Augustine Davis recounts the bombing of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Augustine Davis gives examples of discrimination in the segregated U.S. Navy during the 1940s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Augustine Davis evaluates portrayals of World War II generals and admirals</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Augustine Davis talks about mispersceptions about blacks' roles in the Navy during World War II</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Augustine Davis recalls the destruction of the U.S. fleet at the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Augustine Davis shares memories of the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Augustine Davis explains the U.S. Navy's strategy after defeat at Pearl Harbor</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Augustine Davis reflects on his and other African Americans' military service in World War II</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Augustine Davis describes how a gun battery works</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Augustine Davis describes his experience in World War II's Battle of Midway, 1942</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Augustine Davis mentions Tokyo Rose</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Augustine Davis relates an unreported incident of an American cruiser sunk by friendly fire during World War II</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Augustine Davis illustrates how he and other black soldiers were not appreciated at home during World War II</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Augustine Davis illustrates racism aboard the U.S.S. Essex aircraft carrier</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Augustine Davis advocates for the acknowledgement of African American military service in World War II</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Augustine Davis describes his experince at Bates College after his discharge from the U.S. Navy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Augustine Davis recalls averting a frontal lobotomy while at a Veteran's hospital</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Augustine Davis describes his efforts to start life anew after leaving college and the military</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Augustine Davis talks about his return to college and obtaining his undergraduate degree from Ohio State</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Augustine Davis talks about the difficulty of getting into medical school after graduating from college</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Augustine Davis explains why he attended pharmacy school</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Augustine Davis recalls how he dealt with racism he encountered at Ohio State</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Augustine Davis describes the challenges he faced due to racial prejudice while working as a pharmacist</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Augustine Davis discusses the prevalence of racism in the United States</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Augustine Davis recognizes shortcomings in the mentoring of black youth</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Augustine Davis discusses his parents' responses to his success</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Augustine Davis describes how he would like to be remembered</a>







Augustine Davis recalls the destruction of the U.S. fleet at the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
Augustine Davis describes the challenges he faced due to racial prejudice while working as a pharmacist
Let's go back to [the attack on] Pearl Harbor [Hawaii, December 7, 1941] and let's talk about what the scene looked like there. And maybe why the [U.S.S.] Breese didn't get sunk. And there's a story about the [U.S.S.] Arizona too.$$You ready for me to talk? Tell you about it?$$Yeah, yeah.$$Then Pearl Harbor, now, see, they have what they call battleship row, and they--now, we weren't tied up to any of those docks. Destroyers was moored to buoys, we were tied up to buoys. Now, we were right around, as you came out of the channel, we weren't too far, after getting out to the channel into the main harbor, tied up to a buoy. Now, when there was all that attack, that was going on there--see, most of those ships were sunk within a minute of--a half an hour because when they knew anything, those guys was dropping bombs and things down on--practically down the smokestacks and things before any of the other guys were even out of the bunks. Ships was sinking and burning. And the guys were abandoning ship, jumping in the water. And those fighters were still coming in strafing and killing the guys in the water. So, and this, another thing, they always say, now, telling it, giving a description of something that happened in a case like that or during war or anything else in the--individuals tell the story from where they--their viewpoint, where they were and what was happening. Now, they, they talk about they only lost 2,500 men in Pearl Harbor. That's hard for me to believe because you take each one of those battleships carried almost 400--4,000 men, not to mention the destroyers or anything like that that carried three--around 300 men and stuff. Now, and most of those guys were lost on those ships. Now, you take like the [U.S.S.] Arizona. The Arizona just went down, and the guys didn't have a chance. But when they sound, man your battle station, even though their ship was blowing up and sinking at the time, here again, that was a battleship. And like I said, most of your black guys on there was assigned to the magazine. Those guys went to their battle station knowing that that ship was going down. They went to their battle stations. Consequently, they're all down there on that, the Arizona in Pearl Harbor right now. Now, about a couple of months before that happened, before the war brought--see, in the [U.S.] Navy they like all the other service, the Army as well, they, they go after good athletes. Ships compete for good athletes just like there in the Army bases and things, like companies go after good athletes. So the guys, the admiral has rank and the captain of the Arizona was an admiral, where the captain of the destroyer I was on was only a commander. Now, the captain of the Arizona was trying to get me off of the destroyer on the Arizona because I was a good athlete.$$What, to play baseball?$$For, to play baseball--now see, I played everything. I played but football, and so, yeah, that's what, yeah, that's what it--because ships compete against each other like schools and things, your bases and things, ship bases, they, they have base teams and things like that. They, they compete against each other just like colleges and things do. So he was trying to get me off, gonna take me off the destroyer, that destroyer and move me to the Arizona. Well, the captain of the destroyer I was on, he made an appeal to the admiral of the fleet saying that the captain of the Arizona was pulling rank on him and attempting to take his best men away from him which was lowering the efficiency of his ship. And the admiral of the fleet stopped that transfer. Now, had that not happened, I would be down there with the rest of those guys on that Arizona right today. So here again, I say, well, maybe there is a God. I mean so many things have happened to me that I can't explain. But anyway, that's--$$Well, what did--yeah, can you--I just wondered if you could describe what it looked like and what it smelled like, and--?$$Oh, during that attack?$$Yeah, after the battle, yeah.$$Well, you couldn't, you couldn't smell anything but oil and oil all over the water, from the ships and things, and naturally, smoke, you, you--black smoke and stuff. You're inhaling that, it's stifling to you--and during, during the battle, you, you could hardly see so far because the, it was so much dense black smoke from those ships burning and sinking. So it was, it was just, it was, it was complete pandemonium. As I say, you smelled a lot of fuel oil and stuff like, all those planes right there on Ford Island [Pearl Harbor, Hawaii]. Those planes was all blowing up so there's aircraft fuel and fumes in the air, and all from the ships, the, the whole harbor was covered with oil. And they guys, if you--that was in the water, all you could do was--and it was fire on the water. So you were taught in the navy anyway, abandon, abandoning ship in case of fire or it might be fire on the water from the--so you swim as far as you could in the water and when you come up, you come up with your hands first and part the water, part that oil and stuff. So you could catch your breath and then go back down. See, you could do that when that, when that oil and stuff is burning on the water, you come up, you part the water, you part that blaze, give you a chance to stick your head up there and, and catch a breath and then go back down. Well, that's--.$$So what do you try to do? Swim under it--?$$Swim under it, you have to stay under it. And that's only, you can only go so far like that, and you, you have to come up. So it's just, you're just lost. I mean you just come up and get burned up. And then another thing, when a ship is sinking like that, you have to get as far away from it as you can because it, it'll pull you right down with it. It's taking on water, you see, and it's sucking that water in; it'll suck you right in with it. And that vacuum of the ship going down, even if it, you--it's no longer seen on the surface of the water, it's still a vacuum, there's water coming in to fill that void where that ship went down. So, so that water and current will, will pull you right down with it. And it may take you so deep so you won't be able to hold your breath long enough to get back to the surface. But that's, that's what these guys were doing in the water. And then--another thing, as I say, most of them didn't have a chance because even though they managed to get off the ship and into the water and trying to swim to the shore, these, these--the fighter planes were coming and just spraying the surface of the water with bullets killing 'em in the water.$When I graduated from pharmacy [Ohio State University College Of Pharmacy, Columbus, Ohio] it was a routine--they usually brought in representatives from all your major pharmaceutical companies, things like that, to come in and interview the senior class. It was two of us graduating in my class. One more black guy. They brought these guys in to interview all these other guys. And none of them ever interviewed myself or this other--Rudy, this other black guy. Never interviewed us. At that time you couldn't--black guys couldn't get in the pharmaceutical industry. You couldn't even get a job in retail pharmacy. You apply--I applied for jobs in retail pharmacy and they said they need you there, but they were afraid to hire you because it may drive a lot of their white customers away. So hospital pharmacy would take a black pharmacist in for the simple reason that none of these other guys--because they made more money in industry and that type of thing than they could make in hospital pharmacy. So hospitals needed pharmacists. So they would take us. So that's how I got into hospital pharmacy. And in order to augment my salary, bring my salary up to something comparable to what these other white guys were making in the industry and that, not only did I do hospital pharmacy, I worked part-time retail pharmacy in areas--all black areas. They wouldn't hire you in retail pharmacy. These chains and things in none of the retail pharmacy that you know. Private drugstores. They wouldn't hire you in a white area. But those people--drugstores in all black areas, they would hire you. Now that's what was going on then, all right. Now another thing that I get into, you get into that. Even there in hospital pharmacy you could never become the head of the department a chief pharmacist even in hospital pharmacy, that paid more than just a regular staff pharmacist. That was going on even in hospital pharmacy. I went--I went into hospital pharmacy in Columbus, Ohio and I stayed in pharmacy in Columbus, Ohio 'til I met my wife [Gwendolyn Newberry] and got involved with my wife and she lived in Cleveland [Ohio]. So that's when I moved to Cleveland and went into hospital pharmacy in Cleveland. And the first thing I was told when I reported to work at University Hospital in Cleveland--the head of the department called me inside and said, "Now just because we will be working with you, that doesn't mean that we want to socialize with you." See that's the thing that burns me. A lot of these blacks today they're out here walking around with their nose in the air and not--and they don't know what we went through. And to a great extent still going through, up until I retired. I was working in--I transferred to a hospital [St. Joseph's Hospital] in New Jersey, because it paid a little bit more money than the hospital was paying--the University Hospital was paying in Cleveland. I got there--it was a situation where most of the people they had working in pharmacy there didn't know anything about hospital pharmacy. So that's why they latched on to me in the first place, all right. The head of the department, that one that should have been running the department--and when they had department head meetings and all this kind--that should have been attending those meetings, I was sent to those department head meetings. And I was told at one of the meeting--it kept happening. I was told at one of the meetings something. The president was talking about some kind of program. Whatever they were talking about and they wanted the opinion of all--coming from all departments. And I said how it would affect the pharmacy department, the problems and things we would have and that type thing. And the president one day--one day I just had had it. This particular day the president said, "Oh that's not for you to say. That's for the head of your department to say." And I had had it. I said, "Well why do you think I'm up here? Do you think I came here on my own? The head of the department sent me here. Why do you think I was sent here?" And you could hear a pin fall. He didn't know what to say. And I--in the department I set up an IV [intravenous] department. I did all the research work and that type of thing. I set up an IV department. So I was put in charge of that IV department because the other pharmacist, they didn't know anything about that. So they got another white youngster coming in there right out of college. And he was assigned to my department, the IV department. He didn't wanna work back there because I was in charge of that department. So the head of the pharmacy department started hee-hawing around and came to me and said, "Well--" talking about the situation. He said, "Well why don't we just make both of you head of that department." Now this might seem ridiculous to you.$$Yeah it does.$$"Why don't we just make both of you head of that department." I told him--I said, "This is ridiculous." I said, "Well I'll just do what you don't have the guts to tell me. I'll just tell you what I'll do myself. You can give that department to that fellow. I'll take orthopedics, intensive care and cardiac care. And I'll take those three departments--floors. Cardiac care, intensive care and orthopedics." And then they said, "Well that will be fine. But then also what will happen before he makes any decisions as to what's to be done back there in that IV department, he'll have to get it approved by you." I was telling you about some of the things I went through. Some of the things I went through.$$That sounds crazy. Sounds absolutely crazy.$$And that's--and that hadn't been eons--years ago. That's right on up until--you have doctors and things coming to the pharmacy with questions and things about medication and what not. They'd walk right by me and go to one of these white individuals. And that white individual had to turn and come to me to get the answer. And that soon became--and all the doctors--it wasn't no black doctors in that hospital out there. They [unclear]. They were aware of that. Yet they would come if they'd come there, they'd still go to one of those guys and they had to get what I had to say through one of those guys. Also the thing that, you know--so tell you the truth I'm a--I am a better man today and it makes it worse when I have to endure and think of what other people thinks about me and that type of thing. Now I--getting back to the beginning when I transferred from Ohio to New Jersey, New Jersey was supposed to reciprocate with Ohio. Supposedly all I had to do was go there and apply for a license in New Jersey. I had to get a New Jersey license. But that's all it should have been. Because I'd been working as a pharmacist in Ohio for what? Five or six years. But when I got to New Jersey instead of reciprocating with me, they did it for other pharmacists. I've known other white pharmacists to come from Chicago [Illinois] here and Boston [Massachusetts] there. Came there and all they did was apply for a New Jersey license and got it. But with me--you know how they requested for me to get licensed in New Jersey? I had to get authentic documentation from the elementary school that I graduated from, the high school that I graduated from, the college that I graduated from. I had to get a letter from two of the professors in the college that I graduated from. And a recommendation from the hospital that I had just left. They requested all that stuff from me. Now how in the world did I get through high school? How did I get through college? How would I get an Ohio license if I hadn't graduated from college?