The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week, we dip into the interview of Dr. William Penn Davis, conducted on March 24, 1972. During the Civil Rights Movement, no white church leader in Mississippi showed more bravery or strength of his convictions than Reverend Davis. His lifelong work towards racial unity—which he called “human relations”—was met at times with threats of violence and scorn by white Christians and non-Christians alike.
1972 - Dr. William Penn Davis was born in Union County, Mississippi, in 1903. In this episode, he recalls how his parents taught him, by example, to treat people with respect, regardless of race. While attending Mississippi College, Rev. Davis served as pastor of a church in the Brownsville community. He explains how a hate crime inspired his work to improve race relations in the state.
From 1957 until 1971, Davis served as president of the Mississippi Baptist Seminary. He discusses their efforts to promote racial unity during the Civil Rights Movement. As an advocate for race relations, Rev. Davis was often targeted by white supremacists. He remembers being beaten and left for dead by a group of masked men.
Because black churches were meeting places for civil rights organizers, dozens were burned in retribution. Dr. Davis recounts how the Citizens of Concern rebuilt fifty-two churches during that time.
CAUTION: CONTAINS RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE AND DESCRIPTIONS OF VIOLENCE.