Harry Branham Davis was born on July 24, 1893, in Princess Anne County and was the son of Samuel J. Davis and Ida V. Fisk Davis. He grew up on the family farm that his grandfather had purchased before the American Civil War (1861–1865). After graduating from Norfolk Academy in 1910, Davis entered Hampden-Sydney College but withdrew during his freshman year because his father's illness required that he return to the farm. Later he became associated with the Truckers' Ice and Cold Storage Corporation, of Norfolk, of which he ultimately became president. Davis married Rosa Lee Woodhouse in Princess Anne County on July 26, 1917. The childless couple legally separated in 1931 but never divorced.
In 1933 Davis won election as a Democrat to the House of Delegates representing Princess Anne County (renamed the district of Princess Anne County and Virginia Beach in 1954). Known for his expertise in matters relating to the Chesapeake Bay and public education, Davis became chair of the Committee on the Chesapeake and Its Tributaries in 1944 but in 1948 exchanged it for the chairmanship of the Committee on Schools and Colleges (in 1950 renamed the Committee on Education). He remained its chair through 1959.
Harry F. Byrd Sr. and other leaders of the state Democratic organization rejected the local option approach in favor of a plan of Massive Resistance to all desegregation orders. The General Assembly accordingly created a new state agency, the Pupil Placement Board, to rule on all students' applications to transfer and required the governor to close any public school under court order to desegregate. If a county or city chose to reopen a closed school, it could not use state money for its support. Davis opposed Massive Resistance despite pressure from Sidney Kellam, a Princess Anne County political leader who was a confidant of Byrd. Davis declared that he believed "in trying to preserve the public school system by minimizing integration," but "conditions vary so in Virginia that localities should be free to meet their individual problems. Virginians have a choice of closing the public schools or having a few Negroes here and there in the white schools."
After state and federal courts ruled the Massive Resistance laws unconstitutional, the governor created a new Commission on Public Education with state senator Mosby Garland Perrow as chair and Davis as vice chair. Like the Gray Commission, the Perrow Commission endorsed a local assignment approach, for which Davis provided the tiebreaking vote when his House Committee on Education approved it in April 1959.
Returning to private life, Davis remained interested in the affairs of the new city of Virginia Beach after its merger with Princess Anne County in 1963. He and his sister sold land to the city for a park in 1986 and provided part of the cost themselves. Davis died in Norfolk on July 18, 1987, and was buried at Riverside Memorial Park.
July 24, 1893 - Harry B. Davis is born in Princess Anne County, the son of Samuel J. Davis and Ida V. Fisk Davis.
1910 - Harry B. Davis graduates from Norfolk Academy. He enters Hampden-Sydney College but withdraws his first year because of his father's illness.
July 26, 1917 - Harry B. Davis and Rosa Lee Woodhouse marry in Princess Anne County. They will have no children.
1931 - Harry B. Davis and Rosa Lee Woodhouse Davis legally separate but are never divorced.
1933 - Harry B. Davis wins election as a Democrat to the House of Delegates representing Princess Anne County.
1944 - Harry B. Davis becomes chair of the Committee on the Chesapeake and Its Tributaries in the House of Delegates.
1948–1959 - Harry B. Davis serves as chair of the House of Delegates' Committee on Schools and Colleges (in 1950 renamed the Committee on Education).
1954 - Harry B. Davis serves as vice chair of the Commission on Public Education (also called the Gray Commission), which proposes leaving pupil assignments to local school boards as a way of resisting desegregation.
1959 - Harry B. Davis loses in the Democratic Primary to Pressley B. White. Davis has served in the House of Delegates representing Princess Anne County and Virginia Beach since 1933.
April 1959 - The House of Delegates' Committee on Education approves a proposal to leave pupil assignments to local school boards as a way of resisting desegregation.
1986 - Harry B. Davis and his sister sell land to Virginia Beach for a park and provide part of the cost themselves.
July 18, 1987 - Harry B. Davis dies in Norfolk and is buried at Riverside Memorial Park.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Sweeney, J. R., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Harry B. Davis (1893–1987). (2014, August 21). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Davis_Harry_B_1893-1987.
- MLA Citation:
Sweeney, James R. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Harry B. Davis (1893–1987)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 21 Aug. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: February 12, 2014 | Last modified: August 21, 2014