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Obituaries for William H. Davis


Charleston Gazette
March 25, 1938

W. H. Davis, Negro Educator, Passes

Booker T. Washington’s First Instructor Dies at 89

William H. Davis, 89, one of West Virginia’s most prominent Negroes and first instructor of Booker T. Washington, noted educator, died yesterday morning at his home, 600 ½ Court street. He resided there for 69 years.

His boyhood was spent in Columbus and Chillicothe, O., where he attended public schools until the age of 15. Mr. Davis was one of the two surviving members of the Grand Army of the Republic in this section.

He enlisted in the Union army Dec. 18, 1863, and became a member of the Light Guard, a company recruited in Ohio for special service. The company composed of 110 men entrained for Washington, D. C., Dec. 26, 1863. The Light Guard company was encamped in the rear of the White House and served as a body guard for President Lincoln.

Honored at Tuskegee

After the war, Davis returned to Columbus. After a few weeks, he went to Cincinnati to work on the steamer Victoria, plying between Gallipolis and Brownstown, W. Va.

Later, he settled at Tinkerville (Malden) and began his long career as a school teacher. His first sessions of school were held in one of the rooms of the home of Elder Lewis Rice.

It was in this room that Davis taught Booker T. Washington the A B C’s.

About a year ago, Davis was guest of honor at the Booker T. Washington anniversary celebration at Tuskegee, Ala. It was there that Washington founded the first Negro university.

While teaching at Tinkerville, he married Nellie A. Lewis of Charleston. Although Davis lived in Charleston after his marriage, he walked six miles twice daily to school for four years.

In 1870, Davis became principal of Negro schools in Charleston and held the position for 24 years. He retired in 1913.

Widely Known in State

Converted under Elder Lewis, he joined the African Zion church in 1866 and was received into the First Baptist church of Charleston in 1872. He was financial and recording secretary of the church for many years.

His teaching profession and church and lodge affiliations endeared Davis to hundreds of persons in the state. He also was a member of the F. and A. M. lodge, G. A. R. (Blundon post) and the Business and Professional Men’s club, in which he held a life membership.

A widower for 37 years, Davis is survived by four daughters, Mrs. Mamie Benon and Mrs. Josephine Byrd of Detroit, Mich., and Mrs. Inez Greene and Mrs. Fannie Woodson of Charleston; 17 grand-children, 12 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren.

The body is at Campbell mortuary. Funeral services will be conducted at 2:30 p. m. Sunday at the First Baptist church, with the Rev. Vernon Johns officiating. Interment will be in Spring Hill cemetery.


Charleston Daily Mail
March 25, 1938

Death Claims Negro Leader

William Davis Taken; Was Educator

Negroes in Charleston and throughout the state Friday mourned the death of one of their most beloved and most prominent citizens, William Davis, 89. Mr. Davis died Thursday at his home, 600 ½ Court street, where he had lived for 69 years.

His body was removed to the Campbell mortuary and funeral services will be held Sunday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock at the First Baptist church. Rev. Vernon Johns will be in charge of the services and burial will be in Spring Hill cemetery.

The elderly Negro, who spent a long and useful life as an educator, having first taught Booker T. Washington, famous Negro educator, his ABC’s, will be buried in his Union army uniform of the Civil war. He was extremely proud of his uniform and the medals which had been bestowed upon him.

Until just a few years ago, Mr. Davis participated in the annual Armistice day celebration and marched with the Civil war veterans. At death, he was one of the two surviving members of the Grand Army of the Republic in this section.

Many Taught by Him

Almost every Negro man and woman who grew up in Charleston, was in early life a pupil under the direct charge of Mr. Davis, or at least under his supervision. For 24 years he was principal of Charleston’s Negro schools. Mr. Davis was connected with Kanawha county schools for 47 years, 43 of which were in Charleston.

His boyhood was spent in Chillicothe, O., where he attended public schools until he was 15 years old. On Dec. 18, 1863, he enlisted in the Union army, and became a member of the Light Guard, a company enlisted in Ohio for special duty. The company was sent to Washington and served as a guard for President Lincoln.

After the war Mr. Davis returned to Columbus, remaining only a few weeks, then going to Cincinnati to work on the steamer Victoria plying between Gallipolis and Brownstown, W. Va.

Began Teaching at Malden

After a short time at this work he settled at Tinkersville, which is now Malden, and began his long public career as a teacher. His first classes were held in the home of Elder Lewis Rice. It was there that Mr. Davis taught a small boy, Booker T. Washington, who was later to emerge as a foremost Negro educator.

More than a year ago, Mr. Davis went to Tuskegee university where he was the guest of honor at the Booker T. Washington anniversary celebration.

While teaching at Tinkerville he married Nellie A. Lewis of Charleston. Although he lived in Charleston after his marriage he walked to and from Tinkerville every day.

In 1870 he became principal of Charleston Negro schools, a position which he held for 24 years. He retired in 1913.

He joined the African Zion church in 1866 and was received into the First Baptist church in 1872. For a great many years he was financial and recording secretary of this church.

His teaching profession and his church and lodge affiliations endeared him to hundreds of West Virginians. He was a member of the F. and A. M. lodge, the Blundon post, G. A. R., and was a life member of the Business and Professional Men’s club.

A widower for 37 years, Mr. Davis is survived by four daughters, Mrs. Mamie Benon and Mrs. Josephine Byrd, of Detroit, and Mrs. Inez Green and Mrs. Fannie Woodson, of Charleston; 17 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.

Members of Blundon Woman’s Relief corps No. 6, auxiliary to the G. A. R., and Dorothy Dix tent No. 6, Daughters of Union Veterans, will meet at 2 o’clock Sunday afternoon at the church to attend the services in a group.


African Americans

West Virginia Archives and History