Overcoming (Afton Press, $28.00), the autobiography of historic humanitarian W. Harry Davis, is important reading for just about everyone imaginable. It is multi-generational fare for African Americans. Overcoming (Afton Press, $28.00), the autobiography of historic humanitarian W. Harry Davis, is important reading for just about everyone imaginable. It is multi-generational fare for African Americans. Today’s youngsters deserve to be enlightened that, along with nationally lauded, civil rights figures like Malcom X and Martin Luther King. such pioneers of the last half-century as Adam Clayton Powell, Shirley Chisholm and W. Harry Davis laid the ground on which Black youth walk in a world of opportunity their forbears were denied. More than a few oldsters who’ve made inroads to mainstream life similarly should be put in mind that social achievement is not to be exploited for material comfort without one’s at least acting to widen the way for others,
Apropos to a well written book, it’s indistinguishable where the writer’s hand leaves off and where editor’s acumen intercedes to clarify an author’s voice. Out of hand, though, Lori Sturdevant is due accolades for the text’s seamless flow of language and for its flawless continuity: all editors worth their salt endeavor to effect an invisible contribution. That said, this is artfully executed prose of profound consequence.
Overcoming exhaustively details the passage of an individual who took on as a career the betterment of life for others. W. Harry Davis, conventionally good-looking and smart as the proverbial tack, could’ve gone for self and, even in his era of the 50’s, done pretty good for a Black man. Growing up within walking distance of opportunities to embark of criminal enterprise, he would’ve prevailed in the underworld. Later in life, he could have exploited North Minneapolis riots (which destroyed most of the community’s stores) to set up shop and sell conveniently located, over-priced goods. At any time during his years of staunch activism, Davis could’ve sold out, opting for vested status as token figurehead. Clearly, it never crossed his mind to be anything but conscientious individual of unimpeachable integrity.
Among the landmark events documented in Overcoming is Davis’ prominent role and definitive impact as someone determined to counteract America’s system of institutionalized racism, specifically by working to change the climate in Minneapolis. He writes, “It was impossible [to be Black] anywhere in America in the 1950s and not be aware of both prevalent racism and persistent stirring to overcome it.” Accordingly, he not only joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but, in 1965, was elected president of the Minneapolis branch and “continued the NAACP’s traditional emphasis on education and job training. Our chapter worked to persuade families to keep their children in school.” Those word are not mere platitudes or hollow self-congratulations: Davis’ hands-on involvement made a significant difference. When the racial unrest of Los Angeles, Detroit and New York City exploded in Minneapolis, he got from behind his desk at the NAACP and literally went to the street, standing between regimented law enforcement and angry citizens to help bring a solution that amounted to something more sensible and fair than the cops simply implementing an assault-and-lock-’em-up remedy. Working on-site in North Minneapolis, with the aid of then-Mayor Arthur Naftalin, Davis helped institute a process by which frustrated youth obtained long denied employment by businesses in their own neighborhoods.
W. Harry Davis later served as a pioneering force for social change in the Minneapolis public school system. Elected chair of the Board of Education, he strongly supported the newly devised plan by Superintendent John B. Davis, Jr. (no relation) to implement citywide desegregation. “Did neighborhood schools really provide equal quality of education?”, Davis writes. “If not, what remedy made the most sense? This city and this nation are not thro