Marion Edward Davis

Marion E. Davis (1862–1946)

Marion E. Davis, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, led the Negro Organization Society (NOS) from 1930 until 1942. Born enslaved in Mississippi, Davis moved to Virginia in 1910 and took over Portsmouth's Emmanuel Church. After leading congregations in Richmond and Norfolk, he served as presiding elder over four separate districts. Davis became involved with the Negro Organization Society, a community-improvement organization in line with the non-confrontational style associated with Booker T. Washington, a few years after its 1910 start. During his tenure as president of the NOS, the organization funded voter registration programs and took full advantage of opportunities made possible by New Deal federal aid. Davis died in Portsmouth in 1946. MORE...

 

Marion Edward Davis was born on January 19, 1862, in Holmes County, Mississippi. His parents, Prince Davis and Ann Davis, were almost certainly enslaved at one time, although sources are silent on their status at the time of his birth. Davis grew up on a farm and attended local schools, where he showed enough aptitude to work as an instructor. After studying early in the 1880s in the normal department of Central Tennessee College (later Walden University) in Nashville, Davis returned to Mississippi, having resolved to become a minister.

He taught school in his native county and was licensed to preach by the North Mississippi Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. About 1888 Davis matriculated at Wilberforce University in Ohio, where he received a college preparatory diploma in 1891. Payne Theological Seminary, an affiliated school, awarded him a bachelor's degree and a doctorate of divinity in 1894 and 1898, respectively. While pursuing his theological education, he served as pastor of a church in nearby Springfield.

Davis returned to Mississippi in the autumn of 1894 and was assigned to the AME church in Friars Point, Coahoma County. He remained in this post for about five years, and for part of the time he also served as pastor of the church in Clarksdale while doubling as principal of Stringer Academy, an AME school operated by the North Mississippi Annual Conference. Davis continued to polish his skills as a preacher and fund-raiser during subsequent assignments in Port Gibson (1900–1905) and Natchez (1905–1910). On October 27, 1897, he married Cora Leigh Flagg, a teacher. They had one son and one daughter.

In 1910 Davis accepted an offer to become pastor of Portsmouth's Emmanuel Church, a prestigious post in the Virginia Annual Conference, in which he quickly became a leader. Success at Emmanuel resulted in his assignment as pastor of Richmond's Third Street Bethel Church from 1916 to 1920. After two years at Saint John's Church in Norfolk, Davis became presiding elder of the Portsmouth District (1922–1927). Although maintaining his residence in Portsmouth, he served as presiding elder of the Roanoke (1927–1930), Norfolk (1930–1932), and Richmond (1932–1935) districts before resuming the Portsmouth post in 1935.

In addition, Davis was treasurer of the Virginia Annual Conference and a delegate to all but one of the denomination's quadrennial General Conference conventions between 1908 and 1944. Well-regarded nationally, he was a trustee of three AME colleges: Wilberforce University, Campbell College in Mississippi, and Kittrell College in North Carolina. In 1915 Davis won election as a vice president at the second meeting of the Hampton Ministers' Conference, an annual interdenominational event held at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University), and he served as president for several years during the 1920s.

Davis became an early member of the executive committee of the Negro Organization Society, an umbrella group founded at Hampton in 1910 to coordinate the community-improvement efforts of African American churches and civic organizations throughout Virginia. With its motto "Better Schools, Better Health, Better Homes, Better Farms," the NOS pursued the philosophy of non-confrontational social uplift associated with Booker T. Washington. With the support of white leaders, the NOS raised funds for schools in rural black communities, sponsored Clean-Up Days, and distributed health bulletins. In 1921 Davis was one of several speakers during an educational campaign the society organized on the Eastern Shore and in several Southside counties.

During the last half of the 1920s, he chaired the health committee, which funded a state agent for the promotion of sanitation in rural areas and helped secure a facility for African American consumptives. The committee also successfully lobbied for public health nurses for the black population funded in part by state and local governments and in part by the NOS and other charitable organizations. Elected president of the NOS in 1930, Davis led the group for the next twelve years. During his tenure, the organization took full advantage of opportunities made possible by the New Deal and funneled federal aid to client organizations and communities. In addition, Davis created a department devoted to "Better Business." During this era the NOS also began to support citizenship training and to fund voter registration programs.

Davis retired as president of the organization in 1942 and as presiding elder of the Portsmouth District two years later. He died at his Portsmouth home on June 21, 1946, and was buried in that city's Lincoln Memorial Cemetery.

Time Line

  • January 19, 1862 - Marion E. Davis is born in Holmes County, Mississippi.
  • Early 1880s - Marion E. Davis studies to be a teacher at Central Tennessee College (later Walden University) in Nashville.
  • ca. 1888 - Marion E. Davis matriculates at Wilberforce University in Ohio.
  • 1891 - Marion E. Davis receives a preparatory diploma from Wilberforce University in Ohio.
  • 1894 - Marion E. Davis receives a bachelor's degree from Payne Theological Seminary at Wilberforce University in Ohio.
  • Autumn 1894 - Marion E. Davis returns to Mississippi and preaches at a church in Friars Point, Coahoma County.
  • October 27, 1897 - Marion E. Davis and Cora Leigh Flagg marry. They will have two children.
  • 1898 - Marion E. Davis receives a doctorate of divinity from Payne Theological Seminary at Wilberforce University in Ohio.
  • 1900–1905 - Marion E. Davis serves as a preacher in Port Gibson, Mississippi.
  • 1905–1910 - Marion E. Davis serves as a preacher in Natchez, Mississippi.
  • 1910 - Marion E. Davis becomes pastor of Portsmouth's Emmanuel Church and a leader of the Virginia Annual Conference.
  • 1915 - Marion E. Davis wins election as a vice president at the second meeting of the Hampton Ministers' Conference.
  • 1916–1920 - Marion E. Davis serves as a pastor of Richmond's Third Street Bethel Church.
  • 1920–1922 - Marion E. Davis serves as a pastor of Saint John's Church in Norfolk.
  • 1922–1927 - Marion E. Davis serves as presiding elder of the Portsmouth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
  • 1927–1930 - Marion E. Davis serves as presiding elder of the Roanoke District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
  • 1930–1932 - Marion E. Davis serves as presiding elder of the Norfolk District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
  • 1930 - Marion E. Davis is elected president of the Negro Organization Society.
  • 1932–1935 - Marion E. Davis serves as presiding elder of the Richmond District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
  • 1935 - Marion E. Davis resumes his post as presiding elder of the Portsmouth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
  • 1942 - Marion E. Davis retires as president of the Negro Organization Society.
  • 1944 - Marion E. Davis retires as presiding elder of the Portsmouth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
  • June 21, 1946 - Marion E. Davis dies at his Portsmouth home.

References

Further Reading
Hill, Samuel S., vol. ed. Encyclopedia of Southern Culture 1: Religion. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
Holloway, Pippa. Sexuality, Politics, and Social Control in Virginia, 1920–1945. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Whitley, W. B., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Marion E. Davis (1862–1946). (2015, July 7). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Davis_Marion_E_1862-1946.

  • MLA Citation:

    Whitley, William Bland and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Marion E. Davis (1862–1946)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 7 Jul. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: July 1, 2015 | Last modified: July 7, 2015