Davis Family papers, 1876-2007 and undated, bulk 1924-2004

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Davis family
The Davis family, originally of Hampton, Virginia, is a prominent African-American family whose members include authors, journalists, photographers, filmmakers, composers, and educators who have made significant contributions to American history and culture. The collection includes photograph albums, loose photographs, and writings documenting the history of the African American Davis family in Hampton, Virginia from the 1930s to the 1950s as well as family members at later points; it also includes materials related to family history and genealogy that span the period from 1876 to the 1920s. Family members featured within the collection include William Roscoe Davis, Andrew Davis, Arthur P. Davis, Sr., Georgia Campbell Neal, Willie Louise Barbour Davis, Collis H. Davis, Sr., Georgia Louise Davis, Jennie Crosby Davis, Collis H. Davis, Jr., Thulani Davis, Anthony Davis, and Charles Sumner Stone, Jr. (Chuck). Educational institutions attended by family members and documented in the collection include Colby College, Fryeburg Academy, George P. Phenix School, and the Hampton Institute.
4 Linear Feet
1500 Items
Material in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The Davis Family Papers span the years 1876 to 2007, with the bulk of the material dating from 1924 to 2004, and are arranged into three series of photograph albums, loose photographs, and family papers that document the personal histories of members of the African American Davis family. Of the albums in the Photograph Albums Series, four were created by Louise Davis and one was assembled by Georgia Campbell Neal, Louise's grandmother. Louise Davis's photograph album dating from 1947-1949 contains snapshots that pertain to her stay at Fryeburg Academy and at the Encampment for Citizenship summer program. Her 1949-1953 photograph album documents student life at Colby College in Maine. Many images in the Photographs Series were taken by Billie Davis and by Louise Davis, who were particularly interested in photography, but some were contributed by others, including Reuben Burrell of Hampton Institute. Subjects include members of the Davis family and their friends, both at special events and in everyday home and school life in Hapmton, Virginia from the 1930s to the 1950s. The family papers found in the Writings Series consist of correspondence, documents, and published articles related to Davis family members. These include magazine features on Louise Davis from 2001 and 2004, as well as photocopies of Louise Davis's many articles written for major East Coast newspapers and other publications. Materials related to Thulani Davis include photocopies of her articles for the Village Voice and the San Francisco Sun Reporter, and reviews of her books. Papers related to Anthony Davis include reviews and feature articles on his performance and composition career including his operas X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X, Under the Double Moon, Tania, Amistad, and Wakonda's Dream. Genealogical materials include a photocopy of a handwritten draft of Georgia Campbell Neal's autobiography, reports on several of the Davis family reunions in the 1990s, as well as detailed family trees of the Davis and Stone families.

Biographical / historical:

The Davis family of Hampton, Virginia traces its history back to William Roscoe Davis, a former slave and religious and civic leader in Hampton, who lived from 1812 to 1904. The children of his son Andrew Davis and Frances Nash were: Oma Davis, William Davis, Thomas H. Davis, Don Andrew Davis, Harry Winfred Davis, John Davis, Collis Huntington Davis, and Arthur Paul Davis, and Nancy Davis. Don Davis was an administrator at Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia.

Arthur Paul Davis, Sr.

Arthur P. Davis (1904-1996) was born and raised in Hampton, Virginia. A Phi Beta Kappa, he received a degree in philosophy from Columbia University in 1927 and briefly taught at North Carolina College for Negroes (later North Carolina Central University) before returning to Columbia to earn a master's degree in English in 1929. For fifteen years he taught at Virginia Union University and in 1942 earned his Ph.D. in 18th-century English literature from Columbia, the first black American to do so. He joined Howard University in 1944 where he taught until 1980 and was part of a legendary faculty that included Sterling Brown, Ralph Bunche, E. Franklin Frazier, Mordecai Johnson, Alain Locke, and James Nabrit, among others. His books The Negro Caravan (1941), Cavalcade: Negro American Writers from 1760 to the Present (1971), From the Black Tower (1974), and The New Negro Renaissance (1975), are considered landmark texts. He also wrote Isaac Watts: His Life and Works.

Georgia Campbell Neal

Georgia Campbell Neal (1889-1972) was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi. She attended Fisk University and Rust College. She moved to Nebraska to study at hte Graduate School of Pharmacy at Creighton unviersity completing her degree in 1909. Her fourth husband James McKinley Neal was also a pharmacist, and the first African American elected into the state legislature. Together they owned the Regal Pharmacy in Kansas City, Missouri which her husband continued to operate until his own death in 1982. Georgia's only child,Willie Louise Barbour, was born in 1906.

Collis Huntington Davis, Sr.

Collis Huntington Davis, Sr. was born in 1900 in Hampton, Virginia and attended the Whittier School and Hampton Institute Academy. He was one of the first African American students to attend Grinnell College in Iowa and in 1923 became the first African American Grinnell student to be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He returned to Hampton Institute as a chemistry instructor in 1923. He did graduate work at Harvard University and earned a master's degree in chemistry from Columbia University. He pursued a P.h.D. in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania but did not complete the work. He served as chemistry department head and later as Dean of Students, Registrar, Dean of Admissions, and administrative assistant to the president of the Institute. After 47 years, Collis Davis retired from Hampton Institute in 1971. He died in 1974.

Willie (Billie) Louise Barbour Davis

Billie Davis was born Willie Louise Barbour in 1906 in Kansas City, Missouri. She earned a degree from Sargent Physical Education School in Boston, Massachusetts (now part of Boston University). During her college studies she met Collis H. Davis, who was enrolled in a summer class at Harvard University. After graduation she moved to Virginia to teach dance and physical education at Hampton Institute, and in 1930 married Collis Davis. In addition to dance, Billie developed an interest in photography. She studied with the Hampton photography instructor, Reuben Burrell, and built a darkroom in her home. When physical ailments curtailed her dance activity, she concentrated on her photography for the remainder of her life, expanding her range with experimental techniques. She died in 1955. The playground that she worked to build in Phoebus, Virginia was dedicated to her in 1980.

Georgia Louise Davis

Georgia Louise, the Davis' first child, was born in 1932 and was known as Louise. The Davis children grew up on the grounds of Hampton Institute and attended the Institute's George P. Phenix School. In twelfth grade, instead of graduating from Phenix School, Louise enrolled in Fryeburg Academy, in Fryeburg, Maine. She was the first African American student at the institution. At the recommendation of her cousin, Charles T. Davis of New York University, Louise participated in the Encampment for Citizenship program in Bronx, New York in the summer of 1949. Louise attended Colby College, Waterville, Maine from autumn 1949 through spring 1953 and earned a B.A. degree in sociology. After graduation, she moved to New York City and attended Columbia University for one year. She subsequently worked in advertising for four companies in New York City. Louise married the journalist Charles Sumner Stone, Jr. in 1958, and their first child, Krishna, was born in 1959. The family lived in the Bronx until 1961 when they moved to Washington, D.C. Their second child, Allegra, was born in 1962. Louise wrote jazz and theater columns for the Washington Afro-American and Washington Post newspapers. While living in Chicago, she wrote for the Chicago Daily Defender and later for the The Players Showcase magazine. The Stones' third child, Charles Stone III, was born in Washington, D.C. in 1966. The Stone family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1971 where Chuck Stone was a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Louise occasionally wrote essays for the column. The family moved to North Carolina in 1991 when Chuck Stone accepted a position in the Journalism Department at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Louise worked at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Delaware, and then at the NC Dept. of Labor in Raleigh as director of publications.

Jennie Crosby Davis

Jennie Crosby, the Davis' second child, was born in 1934. She graduated from Colby College in 1955, pursued a master's degree at Hampton Institute in 1960, and completed an Ed.D. at Rutgers University in 1980. She followed a career in Social Services working primarily with juveniles. Jennie Davis made many contributions to the field including, developing one of the first alternative detention models and founding the organization "People for Prisoner Art" in New Jersey.

Collis Huntington Davis, Jr.

The third child of Collis and Billie Davis, Collis H. Davis, Jr. was born in 1942. He attended The Stockbridge School in Interlaken, Massachusetts, graduating in 1961, and in 1966 he completed a B.S. degree in political science at University of Wisconsin in Madison. After serving in the U.S. Army from 1966-1969, including overseas duty in Korea, he returned to Hampton, Virginia and worked as director of promotions and photography for the Hampton Association for the Arts and Humanities until 1972. In 1975 he received his Master of Fine Arts degree in film and television production from New York University. He worked for the New York Daily News and New York Amsterdam News while simultaneously teaching at the Queensborough Community College and at the Pratt Institute. His documentary film on Haitian refugees, Voyage of Dreams, was completed in 1983. In 1986 he joined the faculty of Brooklyn College and from 1988 to 1995 taught at Ohio State University. He was a recipient of two Fulbright Scholarships, both to the Philippines (1995-1996 and 2000-2001). He and his wife Violy Hughes moved to the Philippines in 2001. Pinoy Jazz: The Story of Jazz in the Philippines was completed in 2006. The book Corregidor in Peace and War, written with Charles Hubbard, was published in 2007 by University of Missouri Press.

Thulani Davis

Collis and Billie's fourth child, Barbara Neal Davis (now known as Thulani Davis), was born in 1949. After graduating from the Putney School in 1966, she graduated from Barnard College in 1970. She moved to San Francisco and worked at the San Francisco Sun-Reporter, covering news stories such as the trial of the "Soledad Brothers" and the Angela Davis case. She became active with the Third World Artists Collective, working with Ntozake Shange and others. She returned to New York City in the 1970s. She wrote the libretto to X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X, a 1986 opera composed by her cousin Anthony Davis, and the two collaborated again in 1997 on Amistad. For thirteen years, Thulani worked at the Village Voice newspaper, eventually becoming Senior Editor. Her novels 1959 and Maker of Saints were published in 1992 and 1996, respectively, and her book on the history of the Davis family, My Confederate Kinfolk, was published in 2006.

Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis was born in 1951 in Paterson, New Jersey, the son of Charles and Jeanne Davis. He received his bachelors degree from Yale University in 1975 and returned to teach there from 1981 to 1982, and in 1990, 1993, and 1996. His first opera, X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X, with a libretto by his cousin, Thulani Davis, premiered in 1986; his second, Under the Double Moon, premiered in 1989, and his third, Tania, made its debut in 1992. He taught at Harvard University from 1992 to 1996. Anthony and Thulani again collaborated on the 1997 opera Amistad. He joined the faculty of the University of California at San Diego in 1998.

Acquisition information:
The bulk of the Davis Family Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift from 2003-2009.
Processing information:

Processed by Michael Fitzgerald and Karen Glynn, March 2007

Encoded by Michael Fitzgerald and Paula Jeannet.

Completed March 2007

Accessions 2003-0212, 2004-0058, 2004-0019, 2007-0135, 2007-0193, and 2009-0244 were merged into one collection, described in this finding aid.

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[Identification of item], Davis Family Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University