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Darwin N. Davis, Sr.

Darwin Nathaniel Davis, retired senior vice president of AXA Financial (formerly Equitable Life Insurance), was born on April 10, 1932, in Flint, Michigan; his maternal grandfather managed General Motors Executive Garage, and his father, Abner Davis, became the first black postal clerk in Flint. After attending Clark Elementary School, Whittier Junior High School, and Flint Central High School, Davis played football at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (formerly Arkansas A&M University) where he earned his B.A. degree in business administration in 1954.

Snubbed by General Motors because of his race, Davis served in the United States Army from 1955 to 1957, tracking missiles at White Sands, New Mexico. Returning to college, Davis earned his M.Ed. degree from Wayne State University in Detroit, and then worked as a mathematics teacher at Duffield Elementary School and Jones Elementary School. One of the black salesmen Equitable Life Insurance hired in the wake of 1964’s Detroit race riot, Davis became a district manager by his third year. Between 1971 and 1974, Davis earned every type of managerial award Equitable offered. Promoted to vice president of manpower development in 1974, Davis served as the company’s first African American regional president in 1975. In 1989, Davis was promoted to senior vice president of Equitable Life Assurance Society and recognized by Black Enterprise magazine as one of the 25 most important African American executives. A mentor to many young African American executives, Davis retired as senior vice president of AXA Financial in 1998.

Davis served on the African American advisory board of Pepsi-Cola and the boards of the Albert Oliver Program, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Executive Leadership Foundation, the National Minority Golf Foundation, and the Jesse Owens Foundation. Davis also served as vice president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Davis, a recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, had four grown children and lived with his wife, Velmarie, in Stamford, Connecticut.

Davis passed away on Sunday, April 16, 2006 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Accession Number

A2005.050

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/16/2005

Last Name

Davis

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Nathaniel

Occupation
Schools

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

Flint Central High School

New Mexico State University

First Name

Darwin

Birth City, State, Country

Flint

HM ID

DAV16

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

Sponsor

Lincoln Financial Group Foundation

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

Jamaica, North Carolina, South Carolina, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Favorite Quote

Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Connecticut

Birth Date

4/10/1932

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Stamford

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Greens

Death Date

4/16/2006

Short Description

Insurance executive Darwin N. Davis, Sr. (1932 - 2006 ) was one of the black salesmen Equitable Life Insurance hired in the wake of the 1964 Detroit race riot. Davis quickly rose from his entry level position to become the company’s first African American regional president.

Employment

Equitable Life Assurance Society of America

Detroit Public Schools

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Darwin N. Davis, Sr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Darwin N. Davis describes his maternal family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his maternal family's life in Ayrshire, Indiana

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Darwin N. Davis recounts his maternal family's move from Ayrshire, Indiana to Flint, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Darwin N. Davis talks about his mother's job at the Murray's Superior Products Company in Chicago, Illinois and his parents meeting

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his paternal family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about his paternal family's reunion at a Louisiana sugar refining plantation

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. recalls how his father became the first black postal clerk in Flint, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. recalls his father's kind-hearted, generous nature

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Darwin N. Davis, describes his childhood neighborhood and schools he attended in Flint, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. remembers learning about slavery at Whittier Junior High School in Flint, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. recounts growing up with Dr. Herbert Odom

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his experience at Flint Central High School in Flint, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. recalls his initial plan to work at the Flint, Michigan automobile factories after high school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. reflects on playing football at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Darwin N. Davis describes his studies and influential teachers at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes college classmates, including HistoryMakers Malcolm Hemphill, Jr. and Jeff Donaldson

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. recalls challenging a racist bus driver while traveling in the South

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Flint, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about enlisting in the U.S. Army after being denied a job opportunity at General Motors in Flint, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about teaching in Detroit, Michigan public schools during the late 1950s and early 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes how he met and married his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. explains how he began working for Equitable Life Assurance Society of America in 1966

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his professional ascent at Equitable Life Assurance Society of America, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his professional ascent at Equitable Life Assurance Society of America, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. reflects upon his career at Equitable Life Assurance Society of America

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. remembers responding to a racist coworker at Equitable Life Assurance Society of America

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes the racism he encountered while a manager for the Equitable Life Assurance Society of America

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about the promotion of black professionals in corporate America

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about African American women at Equitable Life Assurance Society of America

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. names foundations and organizations with which he is involved

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about his father

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. talks about his mother's pride in his accomplishments

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Darwin N. Davis, Sr. narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

3$8

DATitle
Darwin N. Davis, Sr. remembers learning about slavery at Whittier Junior High School in Flint, Michigan
Darwin N. Davis, Sr. describes his professional ascent at Equitable Life Assurance Society of America, pt. 1
Transcript
What were your favorite subjects in school?$$I liked history. I liked math. I had, I had some good experiences. To tell you one, remember when we studying American history and this is in junior high school [Whittier Junior High School, Flint, Michigan]. Studying American history and we were talking about slavery. Which was, was you know was taught in a way very, you were made to feel very uncomfortable if you were black in this room with 92/94 percent white kids. You were made to feel very bad about, inferior almost about it and we were talking about Nate [sic. Nat] Turner's Rebellion where he rebelled and killed some white people and got some, led some slaves to do that. And the teacher was talking about what a maniac he was and how ridiculous he was and all she just went on and on and on. And then she asked people in the room what do they think about that. Oh I wasn't about to volunteer any thoughts about that. She said then, "Well [HistoryMaker] Darwin [N. Davis, Sr.] what do you think about that?" And I said, "Well I think that more slaves would have been like him, they would of been better and better off." I mean, I couldn't understand how they let people do that, do all those things to them. And she was appalled. She was upset and angry. She kicked me out of the school. Kicked me out of the room and sent to the principal's office and I was not allowed to come back to school unless my parents [Marrietta Todd Davis and Abner Davis] came. Well I went home and told my father about this and he said, "Well what happened? What did you do?" And I told him what happened and he said, "That's all you did, you didn't mouth off or anything did you?" And I said, "No dad, I didn't I just, she asked me a question and I answered her." So he went to the school the next morning with me and the principal said that you know he started. He said, "Wait before we do this, let's get the teacher here too because I want to hear what everybody says about this." Teacher came and my father said, "Now what happened?" And she said, "Well you know he just upset the class, he started real trouble, he was very ill-mannered." And so, "Well what did he do?" And so, he asked her and she said, "Well, he can tell ya" so I said exactly what happened and he said, "So is that what happened?" She said, "Yes." He say, "Now the way I hear this, you asked him a question, he answered you, very manneredly, and you didn't like the answer so you kicked him out." And she said, "Well that kind of thinking is just not acceptable." "No but you did ask him a question and he did answer you and he was not ugly about it and I don't understand why you kicked him out." And I, I, he told the principal, he said, "And I think something should be done about this. She kicked him out of school because he answered the question and she didn't like the answer." Well I was so proud of my father man because, I was already made to feel very bad. This whole thing about slavery in junior high school was just denigrating. I mean you are made to feel less than a person. The way that this teacher taught it she was just really bad. And I always remember that about my father. How proud I was he stood up for me. Because I hadn't done anything wrong and I knew I hadn't done anything wrong. Well, you know, that, nobody bothered me in that school again. But I had a wonderful schooling. Schools were good. They were tough and I had a good life in junior high and high school [Flint Central High School, Flint, Michigan] and elementary school. We walked of course. There were no busing. We walked through snow up to your knees. You walked to school, nobody bothered you. You know, it was very different in those days. The '40s [1940s] and '50s [1950s].$I went into the insurance business in Detroit, Michigan in 1966, '65 [1965], '66 [1966], '66 [1966] and as a salesman. In October 1st and I did real well even with those three months, I really did well. And I loved it, I was fascinated with this business. That first of all you could do a lot to help people and make money at the same time. And I'd been, this whole thing about helping people had been handed down to me through my father [Abner Davis], as I told you about. And I always wanted to do something to help people. I like, that's why I liked teaching school I could help people. I would see kids. In math teaching--math you could see the change. In reading it takes years to see the change but in math, sometimes you can see it in two weeks. And I was very in love with the insurance business because I grew to know that because of me, I could pass a school with--there'd be thirty kids in that school, I knew were going to get an education because their parents had talked to me. I was going to be the one who provided the information and the financial prowess that they would be able to get an education, go to school, and I was very proud of this. I was proud of what I did and proud of what the result would be. I clearly understood the insurance business from the very beginning. That people looked at the insurance business says well you know you pay some money and when you die somebody get some money. I looked at all the living benefits and I, my whole presentation would be about the living benefits of insurance and how you could take care of your family. You could pay a mortgage off early by buying a policy and taking the cash values and dividends and pay off the house ten years early. And I was just was fascinated by that. And I was very successful at it from the very beginning. And I then became a district manager. And Al Carlton [Jr.] and I, he was the district manager and I was the assistant district manager. We built the number one district in the United States in the Equitable [Life Assurance Society of America; AXA Financial] system. Al became an agency manager in Chicago [Illinois] and I took over the Detroit office. We grew that office into the top three of the whole United States. And it was a powerful financially, rich organization that did very, very well. As a result of that, the Equitable, I won two President's Trophies in two years, which most people don't do.$$So what did you do (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) President's Trophies the highest honor you can win as a branch manager. It's a test of you as a business person. They test you in eight areas. But the whole idea is production growth through manpower development with expense control. In other words, you had to grow the business but it had to be--grow it financially profitable. And with expense control. And I did that and at that time I guess I became agency manager in four and a half years and I don't think anybody ever done that much quicker than that. And then I became vice president, they moved me to New York [New York] in 1974.