Williams College Honors Two Black Alumni

Allison Davis

The Multicultural Center at Williams College, the highly rated liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts, has been renamed to honor two alumni. The Davis Center honors brothers W. Allison Davis and John A. Davis.

Allison Davis, a 1924 graduate of Williams College was a notable anthropologist, psychologist, and educator who was the first African American to be named to a tenured professorship at a major predominantly White research university. He was appointed to the faculty at the University of Chicago in 1942.

Allison Davis was the valedictorian at the racially segregated Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. After graduating from Williams College, he earned a master’s degree at Harvard University and a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.

John A. Davis graduated from Williams in 1933. He held a master’s degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University. He taught at Howard University in the mid-1930s and later became a full professor at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. In 1953, he was named an associate professor at City College of New York and was eventually promoted to  graduate professor of government and chairman of the department of political science at the City University of New York. He was the chief academic adviser to the legal team which argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court.

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  1. It is a great pleasure to see this items on the Davises. As an undergraduate, I merely saw Allison Davis as a remote presence at the University of Chicago, when there were only three Black professors. Years later, as an active political scientist I had for a time a strong collegial connection to John A. Davis. They both have had remarkable impacts for me personally.

  2. In addition to Dunbar high school, Allison was valedictorian of his 1924 graduating class at Williams. Perhaps the only Black who has ever held that honor.

    Also, John graduated summa cum laude in 1933.

    Michael E. Reed ’75
    V.P. Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity
    Williams College

    • I am delighted to learn that Allison and John Davis will be honored in this way by Williams College. As the child of African American academics, I was made aware that Rayford Logan, the Davis brothers, and many other African American professors and professionals had attended Williams in the early 20th century. I was also aware of Allison Davis because his sons were just a few years older than me in our community of Hyde Park, Chicago. Indeed, I wanted to attend Williams because Gordon Davis was there and I could thus join him in the next generation of African Americans at Williams, and in that way honor all the African Americans who had come before.
      As it worked out, Williams did not admit me, but the Williams English department hired me in 1971, as I was completing my Ph.D. at Stanford. Perhaps some of the people contributing to this commentary remember me. I’ve been at Yale since 1974.
      Back to the major point: let us honor Allison and John Davis. We would not be where we are today without their commitment and their work.
      All best, Robert Stepto

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