The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Art Gilliam, Jr.

Radio station owner Art Gilliam was born on March 6, 1943 in Nashville, Tennessee to Leola Hortense Caruthers and Herman Arthur Gilliam, Sr. Gilliam attended the Westminster School in Connecticut, and, at the age of sixteen, enrolled in Yale University. He graduated with his B.A. degree in economics from Yale University in 1963 and then joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve. Gilliam went on to receive his M.B.A degree from the University of Michigan in 1967.

Upon graduation, Gilliam returned to Memphis, Tennessee to work with his father at Universal Life Insurance Company, where he remained until 1975. In 1968, he began writing a weekly editorial for The Commercial Appeal and was hired by WMC-TV in Memphis as the weekend news anchor. Gilliam was the first African American to write for The Commercial Appeal and the first African American on-air reporter and anchor on Memphis television at WMC-TV. Then, from 1975 to 1976, he worked as an administrative assistant to U.S. Congressman Harold Ford, Sr.

In 1977, he launched Gilliam Communications, Inc. and bought the WLOK radio station. In doing so, WLOK became the first African American-owned Memphis radio station and the city's first locally owned station. As president and CEO of Gilliam Communications, Inc., Gilliam has also operated radio stations in New Orleans, Louisiana, Jacksonville, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia. He also sponsors the annual WLOK Stone Soul Picnic, which draws thousands of attendees.

Gilliam’s WLOK has earned the title of #1 Gospel Station in the nation by Religion & Media Quarterly for several consecutive years; and, in 1997, was recognized by the Tennessee Historical Commission as a Tennessee Historical Landmark. Gilliam has also received the Black History Men of Honor Leadership Award, the Gospel Bridge Lifetime Achievement Award, the Rainbow/PUSH Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, the Memphis Advertising Federation's Silver Medal Award, and the Downtown Memphis Commission’s Visionary Award. He was also honored with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Outstanding Community Service Award, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Citizen of the Year Award, Phi Beta Sigma African American Male Image Award, and the Delta Sigma Theta’s Outstanding Community Service and Florence Cole Talbert McCleave Awards. In addition, Gilliam was recognized as one of the “Top 25 African Americans in Radio” by Radio Ink Magazine’s, and one of “Ten Outstanding Young Men in America” by the United States Jaycees.

Gilliam has sat on the boards of the Memphis Advertising Federation, the Society of Entrepreneurs, Memphis Zoo, Inc., the National Federation of State Humanities Council, and Lemoyne-Owen College. He served as chairman of the Black Business Association of Memphis and the Tennessee Humanities Council, and was an advisory board member of the University of Memphis College of Communications and the Memphis Sheriff’s Department. Gilliam is also a member of the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, Leadership Memphis, NAACP, and Leadership Music – Nashville.

Art Gilliam was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 26, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.086

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/26/2014

Last Name

Gilliam

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Arthur

Occupation
Schools

University of Michigan

Yale University

Westminster School

Hamilton High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Herman

Birth City, State, Country

Nashville

HM ID

GIL08

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Tennessee

Favorite Vacation Destination

Beach

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Tennessee

Birth Date

3/6/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Memphis

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ribs

Short Description

Radio station owner Art Gilliam, Jr. (1943 - ) was president, CEO and owner of Gilliam Communications, Inc. and WLOK, the first African American-owned Memphis radio station and the city's first locally owned station. He was the first African American to write for The Commercial Appeal and the first African American on-air reporter and anchor on Memphis television at WMC-TV.

Employment

Gilliam Communications, Inc.

WMC-TV

The Commercial Appeal

Universal Life Insurance Company

Harold Ford, Sr. Congressional Campaign

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:144,3:1296,21:2664,47:11664,297:13320,359:14184,377:16344,415:29448,607:29793,613:32139,657:33864,696:36279,740:37452,761:38280,779:39384,823:40074,843:45111,1030:51690,1057:55362,1115:68466,1433:68898,1441:69474,1450:83765,1652:88693,1749:90156,1778:99396,1977:107188,2085:108324,2129:118690,2361:123021,2452:123873,2469:134264,2553:137190,2606:138345,2629:139038,2640:139885,2654:140809,2737:156186,2939:156690,2946:159462,3000:162654,3064:167940,3097:170040,3143:172910,3228:174730,3264:181170,3375:181520,3381:182360,3396:182780,3403:190430,3453$0,0:430,7:734,15:1342,24:4660,43:5632,61:10816,178:11545,189:13003,220:14380,243:18106,312:20131,356:22156,384:31080,492:36120,589:37320,614:38200,633:43350,683:44880,705:55092,845:60138,937:66018,1054:77738,1282:78866,1295:83378,1392:87326,1467:87984,1475:89394,1491:89864,1497:99780,1618:100130,1624:104820,1754:105240,1761:107270,1813:108600,1845:109020,1852:110910,1897:111610,1932:120784,2087:127868,2191:128236,2196:135143,2252:136723,2306:141858,2480:156218,2760:157366,2788:159826,2860:161712,2891:164418,2940:180576,3159:181038,3217:191046,3468:193278,3532:193782,3540:194142,3546:194430,3551:194790,3557:195150,3563:204008,3657:204393,3663:205317,3678:206857,3703:212170,3862:213787,3900:217935,3924:219465,3944:228050,4072:228475,4078:233955,4194:234330,4201:239130,4303:241155,4342:242880,4389:243255,4476:247005,4525:247380,4531:247980,4540:248655,4551:248955,4556:257140,4628:263510,4834:263860,4840:264350,4848:267290,5003:269740,5193:306010,5714:307830,5722
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Art Gilliam, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Art Gilliam, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his mother's education and profession

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about his father's career

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers watching Jackie Robinson play baseball

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes the African American community in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers his family vacations

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Art Gilliam, Jr. recalls his teachers at Hamilton High School in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers his early experiences of religion

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his parents' decision to send him to the Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his experiences at Hamilton High School in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Art Gilliam, Jr. recalls his initial impressions of the Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the development of black radio in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his experiences at the Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers being removed from a segregated bus in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about his aspiration to become an actuary

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the impact of his education at Yale University

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes the African American community at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about his extracurricular activities at Yale University

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers the African American community in New Haven, Connecticut

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Art Gilliam, Jr. recalls his graduation from Yale University

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Art Gilliam, Jr. recalls hearing Malcolm X speak at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his early career at the Universal Life Insurance Company

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes how he came to write for The Commercial Appeal

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the discriminatory practices of The Commercial Appeal

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his column in The Commercial Appeal

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes how he became an anchor at WMC-TV in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his position as a weekend anchor at WMC-TV in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers working for Congressman Harold Ford, Sr.

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Art Gilliam, Jr. recalls acquiring the WLOK Radio station in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the history and format of WLOK Radio in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers changing the format of WLOK Radio

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about WLOK Radio in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes WLOK Radio's relationship with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the Stone Soul Picnic in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about WLOK Radio's gospel format

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his projects at Gilliam Communications, Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about WLOK Radio's on air personalities

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers the election of Mayor W.W. Herenton

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Art Gilliam, Jr. reflects upon his career at WLOK Radio in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the consolidation of the radio industry

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes his plans for the future

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Art Gilliam, Jr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about his civic engagement

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Art Gilliam, Jr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about the state of the radio industry

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Art Gilliam, Jr. describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Art Gilliam, Jr. talks about his parents' reaction to his career

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Art Gilliam, Jr. narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$1

DAStory

4$9

DATitle
Art Gilliam, Jr. describes WLOK Radio's relationship with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition
Art Gilliam, Jr. remembers watching Jackie Robinson play baseball
Transcript
We talk about issues that are pertinent to our community. And we've done that, you know, over the years. I even mentioned, you know, we talked a moment ago about Operation PUSH [Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Chicago, Illinois]. Operation PUSH had been on WLOK [WLOK Radio, Memphis, Tennessee] for a few years. The previous owners [Starr Broadcasting Group] had put them off the air, because some of their advertisers had said that, you know, "Yeah, if you put these, keep these people on the air, we're not going to advertise on your station anymore." So, they put PUSH off the air. And so, this is 1977. So, the first thing I did when we came in was we put PUSH back on the air, because we understood what PUSH meant to the black community, and what the aspirations were of the black community. And so, that was the first thing that we did when we first came in, was put PUSH back on the air.$$I guess, I imagine it wouldn't have been hard to sell, you know, ads for that time slot. I mean, you know--$$Hard to sell?$$No, it would not have been hard. I mean, it would be fairly easy in a black community to sell ads for that time period, I guess (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Well, yeah, except most of your ads were coming, most of your revenue was coming from white businesses, not from black businesses.$$Okay.$$But yeah, you're right as far as whether there's empathy for PUSH in the black community, absolutely. But it was really, from an economic standpoint, I would say that we, there was no benefit (laughter) economically in putting PUSH back on the air.$$Then did you take a hit, a financial hit, from--$$Well--$$--doing so?$$Not really. At the time I don't believe we did, actually. I didn't know whether we were going to take a hit or not. Because you know, obviously, some of the advertisers had previously indicated they were going to boycott the station from the standpoint of advertising, if the previous owners had left them on. So, I had no idea, really. It was really more a matter of principle for me as far as putting PUSH on, because I knew what they had to say. It would have, you know, in my mind, you know, what would be the benefit of black ownership if you're going to do the same thing that the previous owners are doing, in terms of those things that express the aspirations of the black community? So, really, I didn't think about it from an economic standpoint. But I think in the end we probably ended up not taking a hit, because a lot of people started listening to WLOK as well. And so, we, our ratings improved. And so, that probably affected us positively.$$Now, is there like a black community chamber of commerce type organization in Memphis [Tennessee] since--$$Well, not really. Not in the same way that you have the chamber [Greater Memphis Chamber]. You do have some organizations that are, you know, that are black oriented. But at that time, you really didn't have that to the same degree, to the extent that it would make a difference economically. Most of your revenue, it was not going to come from black businesses or organizations.$$Okay. What kind, what businesses really supported, I mean, the station in those days?$$Well, it could be a wide range of it. It could be automobile dealerships, it could be, you know, grocery stores--any, pretty much the same things you might see on the television, radio, you know, any--these, these businesses are pretty well traditionally involved with, with mass media.$Do you have an earliest childhood memory?$$Well, I do--I can remember things that happened, playing around in Nashville [Tennessee]. And partly because--the way I remember it is because we moved when I was six. So, as a result of that, I know things that happened before I was six years old. I can identify that because of that, you know, change of living circumstance. And as far as early childhood--just a happy childhood, playing a lot. My dad [Herman Gilliam, Sr.] was pretty fun loving, pretty humorous. And so, those are the kinds of things. We just did a lot of things together. We would take a trip really most every summer, which was something that--I guess I learned a lot about the country and about the--from my point of view, the world (laughter). But, we would take a road trip pretty much every summer. And one that I remember in particular though, was that, you know, here in Memphis [Tennessee] there was a Negro League baseball team called the Memphis Red Sox. And that was part of that same league [Negro American League] that the New York team [New York Cubans], Birmingham [Birmingham Black Barons], Kansas City [Kansas City Monarchs]--a number of teams were in that league. And I remember my dad told me we were going to go up to St. Louis [Missouri] to see a professional baseball game. So, I thought the Red Sox--that was about it--I thought that was the professional team. And he said, "No, we're going to see a fellow, a black fellow, who's playing baseball in the Major Leagues [Major League Baseball]." And so I thought, again, I told my dad, "I thought the Red Sox, I thought that was the Major Leagues." He said, "No, we're going to go to St. Louis." So, we went to St. Louis. It turned out he was taking me up there to see Jackie Robinson. And I'll never forget that, you know, now that I know the significance of Jackie Robinson. But he was taking me to St. Louis, because the Dodgers, then Brooklyn Dodgers [Los Angeles Dodgers], were coming to St. Louis to play the St. Louis Cardinals.$$Okay. So, you would have been what, about seven or eight, or--?$$Probably a little over, a little over seven, but maybe in the range of eight or nine.$$Okay.$$Something like that. Yeah, because the Dodgers--it would have been the late '40s [1940s] or early '50s [1950s], probably the early '50s [1950s].$$What was it--well, you know--$$May I get, let me get a (cough)--$$Sure.$$--quick break here (cough). My voice is--$$Let me ask you, like--what was that, what was that atmosphere like? Now, I've heard stories of when Jackie Robinson would come to town and the black community would turn out en masse, you know. (Unclear) (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Well, yeah, well, we went to Sportsman's Park, which is of course the St. Louis ballpark. I don't know that there were a lot of black people there in the park. I don't remember it that well. But I just remember that what was important for my dad, I think, was just the significance of Jackie Robinson. And he wanted me to have the experience of seeing Jackie Robinson play baseball. And I don't think I fully appreciated, at the time, what the significance was. I probably was a little bit too young to fully appreciate it. But as I got older, then I appreciated it a lot more.$$Okay. I'm thinking too, that St. Louis would have been the southernmost team in the National League (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) I believe that's probably right. And I'm sure that Jackie Robinson and other ballplayers with the Dodgers--and I don't remember now, I don't believe there were other black players with the Dodgers, as I recall it. At the time I saw Jackie Robinson, I don't remember other black players. Later on, we went to New York [New York], and we saw Brooklyn play. And by that time they had Campanella [Roy Campanella] and Newcombe [Don Newcombe] and other black players--even Joe Black, later Sandy Amoros. They had a number of black players over time. But as I recall, when I went to St. Louis, I don't believe there was another black player on the Dodger ball club.$$Can you remember the black community showing up and--?$$Well, again, it's a big park. So, I didn't--the black community--I didn't specifically have a recollection or an awareness of showing up to see him play. But we came up from Memphis, to drive and just to go buy a ticket to go into the ballpark.$$I know, that's why I asked. Because often they made black people sit together in the park.$$You know, and I don't remember that. I, I, you know, you're absolutely right. I don't remember whether we were sitting in a segregated section or not. Being in St. Louis, I expect we were. But it just wasn't a part of my awareness at the time.$$Yeah, I know how you feel, because I've experienced certain things--where we'd go to the movies when I was a kid. We'd be in the balcony, but I never thought about it until I started doing these interviews.$$Well, you know (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) You might have been--$$--as a matter of fact though--now that, I did think about, and I was aware of. Because Memphis was a segregated city when I was growing up. And so, yeah, we went in the balconies. You had the signs--I don't know if they did that in Dayton [Ohio], your home. But you had white and colored drinking fountains, you had a sign on the bus that said, "Colored passengers occupy rear seats first." In fact, I got put off a Memphis bus once because I wouldn't move back, you know, from the--once I sat down, they wanted to make me move back on the bus. So, this was a segregated area, and you definitely had those elements, and I was very aware of them. But when I went to St. Louis to see the Dodgers, I was not aware necessarily of sitting in a black section.

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
0,0:1320,23:8302,72:17472,104:23324,139:46844,373:47988,388:63178,554:63513,560:67064,623:67399,629:67801,636:72663,655:74181,679:76320,716:82100,743:104768,932:105479,944:112817,1008:113195,1015:116248,1040:117920,1069:129421,1155:130273,1167:134210,1184:168580,1448:172810,1473:173638,1488:217040,1796$0,0:5661,45:11100,134:26013,251:46789,394:48463,429:50137,439:55970,476:57090,530:57410,535:71900,625:72210,631:86946,704:87386,710:98886,826:118556,953:139704,1093:146180,1123:147636,1140:158912,1224:176550,1312:185360,1376:201060,1478:209706,1526:236948,1639:239870,1650:244770,1719
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.