Remembering Phil Davis, SNCC worker 1963, Albany, GA
(  — 1970)

As Remembered by Cassandra Lopez:
September 8, 2014

At one time Philip Davis and I were a couple. My name is Cassandra Lopez. We have a son named Kelven Chapin Davis who is now forty-nine years of age. When I met Phil in 1963 he was fully engaged in the southern civil rights movement in Albany, Georgia, with SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee). I was 18 years of age at the time and Phil was 24. I had just entered college and was doing some organizing with the Northern Student Movement and with SNCC when we first met. All of my political work was in my home city of Detroit and Phil was from the burbs of Detroit, Ferndale, which at that time was Not integrated!

I was impressed with Phil's dedication to bringing down Jim Crow in Albany. He cared with all of his being that my people (Black folks) had to have at least the franchise of voting. He had gone to jail several times, and had come back home to re-energize for the struggle back in Albany.

Phil stayed and worked in Albany doing voter registration for several years. Also, back north, in 1964 Phil joined massive demonstrations in [San Francisco] against the racial discrimination against African Americans at the famous Cadillac Row which involved both Black and White youth. He participated in sit-down strikes against car dealerships which refused to hire Black Americans.

Also at this time there were demonstrations at Mel's Drive-In [Berkeley], in which he participated. In the summer of 1964 Philip was elected the first national chair of the Dubois Clubs of America, which was a pro-socialist community action-oriented organization. Dubois Clubs grew rapidly during this period under Phil's leadership. He traveled around the country bringing black and white activists together to unite and fight. He was one hell of an organizer. That is one of the reasons why I loved and respected him deeply.

Unlike some activists that keep their politics separate from their personal lives, Phil was all hands on deck. As I have mentioned, he was from an all-white suburb of Detroit — Ferndale — and they did not cater to people of color — "colored folks" like me. True to his spirit, Phil took me over to his home in Ferndale to have dinner with his mom. She did not imagine that I would be Black and was visibly upset when I came in. Phil introduced me to his mom. At the time, I did not know how racist his mother was. He had it out with her that night and moved out soon afterwards. His mom never accepted the fact that Philip was with an African American woman, especially from Motown. When we had our son, he sent both his mother and father (who had divorced his mom) a picture of Kelven. His mother never responded and I know it hurt him deeply.

We were from different side of the tracks, but for a short period we were able to forge a bond of love and respect which I still hold very close to my heart. I am still very active in the movement for civil rights and organize with youth in the city of Oakland, California, around issues of equal opportunity in employment, de-militarization of police in the Black and all-working-class communities, increasing the minimum wage to $15 a hour, climate change, and the list goes on. I believe, as did Phil, that we must have a systemic change from a capitalistic state to socialism. He felt as do I, that the inherent contradictions of capitalism will not allow it to deal justly with those of us who create the wealth — the working class. The struggle against racism is pivotal in the class struggle. In order for us all to come together, to unite and fight, the race issue is pivotal. To this I am clear and devoted.

Phil left the Bay area in 1967 to move to the mountains of Oregon. There he resided with his partner Faye, their son Seth and his dog Albion. He was murdered in 1970. The assassin was never caught.

Phil Chapin Davis — Presente!!! To your Great Spirit and indomitable heart.

 — Mama Cassie

As Remembered by Peter de Lissovoy:
September 8, 2014

I met Phil Davis in Atlanta in spring 1963. At that time Charles Sherrod in Southwest Georgia had originated the idea of inviting white kids from around the country to participate in the civil rights movement, and there had been a small number of white volunteers in Albany, GA, for a couple of years. Southwest Georgia was the first place where this tactic, under Sherrod, was used. Summer of 1963 was the first time when a large number of whites were to join in. As I was a college dropout and Phil was somewhat footloose also, we had arrived in Atlanta a few weeks early. SNCC sent us to Albany, and as a result of driving down there together, we were assigned together to organize in the CME (after the church, but also crime, murder, and the electric chair) part of Albany.

Phil was a big, very easygoing guy with a quick warm laugh and talked easily with the black kids and we and some of the gang leaders organized a march right away and wound up in jail for three weeks, during which we engaged in a hunger strike the entire time, rather futiley. But we stuck to it. An account of this is found in my story Hunger Strike on this website.

Phil provided the occasion for one amusing moment during our difficult jail time — in Lee County jail, as Chief Pritchett had sent us over there to Lee. The sheriff over there brought in some local people to see the "freedom riders," as we were a curiosity as well as a nuisance. There had been no freedom movement yet in those parts. These poor people had never seen any civil rights workers as yet, and approached the bars for a good look, much as visitors at a zoo would press close to see wild animals, assured of their safety. After a couple of weeks by then of not eating and not shaving we were a raggedy and unkempt three guys (John Perdew was the third of us). Phil moved up close to the bars by the visitors with his heavy growth of black beard and gave a ferocious loud snort or snarl, at which all jumped back, and promptly left. Phil got a good chuckle out of that. He had a wonderful, rather soft, easygoing laugh. We all laughed a long time.

I thought of Phil as a workingclass guy. I really don't know. I don't have any knowledge of his background myself. I thought of him that way as he presented himself as a "socialist worker" and said he had done construction work. Another thing, he had rather long black hair, which he combed greased back. We college kids did not do that. Either we had short hair like me, or the few by then who wore their hair long let it grow very long. Finally, Phil always talked in terms of "black and white together" but not quite as the rest of us did in the Movement. For Phil it was the class struggle which would unite the races. This didn't necessarily jibe with the rest of us, but I was a dropout myself, so this was fine by me. In any case, it made Phil very interesting and unusual to talk to. He had a different perspective on things.

For instance, he always tried to persuade me to go over to the white bars and see if we could get a couple of white girl friends and have them join the Movement with us — some cracker girls, as we termed them then. After jail time and an awareness of the rabidity of the white people's beliefs about race, let alone socialism, I demurred on this, but maybe Phil gave it a try. If he did, he had no luck.

One time, he persuaded us to try to see if some workingclass white people had registered to vote also, and could be persuaded to see things our way, in the class struggle, black and white together in that sense, while we were canvassing in the black neighborhood. In the poor sections of the country towns, black neighborhoods suddenly changed to white, and back again, and we had found ourselves without realizing it on a white block. So we went on the porch and tried to talk to a white guy, who grabbed his baseball bat and chased us up the street trying to knock our brains out.

Phil Davis was greatly liked by everybody but he stuck to his opinions. He was more left-wing than most in a class sense. My friend Randy Battle always liked Phil a lot. Phil was also part of the later march that summer which culminated in the three guys jumping in Tift Park Pool (see Randy Battle's story on this website The Great Pool Jump), in which Randy mentions that Phil Davis was the guy with the list of those who were to participate. This was unusual on two counts. On one, it was unusual for any of the white kids to be very good organizers. It was the black field secretaries and local black people who took the lead and the whites helped out. (Later John Perdew proved a good organizer in Americus.)

Second, this particular march was a very unusual one, in that it was what I call a "guerilla" march. That is, we did not mass in one body and approach our target, but in small groups of five or six stole and snuck through the alleyways toward our object, which was segregated Tift Park swimming pool, because we really wanted to get there and not be intercepted by the cops. Indeed we got there, but the means of doing so was very chaotic. So the mere idea that a list had been made of those who had pledged to go on the march was a surprise to me, when Randy recounted it. But that it was Phil who had this list did not surprise me, as he was into detail work like that, unusual for a white. He seemed to have some knowledge of organizing, so I believe he must have been with the union.

SNCC and the Movement by winter 63-64 had been hit hard by the segregationists, and a wily bitter bunch of Jim Crow diehards they were in Albany, GA, who had done the same for Martin Luther King a year or two earlier, rather digging in their heels and outlasting and outsmarting the demonstrators by sending them to jails all over the southern half of the state so as not to have a mass of them around any one place, and also Chief Pritchett kept his force in strict control, and allowed no rabid scenes for the cameras as took place later in the South, and any blows that were dealt the demonstrators, and there many, were administered out of sight, certainly of any cameras.

By the early winter of 1964 SNCC had fallen on hard times in Albany and we thought segregation was going to last. We did not see the Movement succeeding at this point, not in the short term. At this time we were living off the land and working odd jobs. Phil Davis I used to see hanging around the Harlem joints like myself. We had somewhat gone our separate ways. Then I heard he had gone back north or rather to California. Phil never acted like he was doing anything unusual at all but just what came natural. In other words he was totally involved and just being himself and living his life and being in the civil rights movement was just an organic part of it, an activity he pursued with the hopes that he would also have a chance to persuade white workers to join in, but he had to go back up north to realize this vision at that time, as the South was not amenable in any way to that perspective at that time.

Phil Davis was a charming guy, and a very modest guy. He was content to be on the marches, to go to jail, and not try to be a big shot. That is, he was a true Movement person, he just showed up with the true spirit and joined right in. When one thinks of the "unsung heroes of the Movement," one's mind always turns to the countless thousands of black southerners who took time out of their lives to march or strike or picket or sit-in, and then go to jail, sometimes to get beaten up and far more than is realized, to get killed. Many who are not remembered now were killed. These thousands and thousands who marched, boycotted, went to jail and risked their lives were the soldiers of the Movement and they were the Movement itself, without whom the leaders could not have come forward. As Randy Battle often used to say, a lot of poor black people made sacrifices, and got killed too, more than could ever be known, lonely murders, on the back roads, never to be recognized, or even counted. Black people who got killed then in the 60s or who made anonymous sacrifices to the Black freedom struggle, that is, to the American civil rights movement, had been doing such things in total obscurity for centuries.

However, there were quite a few white kids and white adults who joined in too in the 1960s and never got their names written on anything and are seldom remembered for some reason. I have always been aware that Phil Davis was such a one. I have very often thought of Phil over the years. He was so modest and unassuming that he has been overlooked, perhaps that is it. Also of course because he died so young. That has always saddened me, because that guy was full of love, life, and easy laughter, and he was brave and for real. I have such a good memory of him. He was a regular guy. So I am glad to remember Phil Davis, a SNCC field worker, when I was. He was my good friend in 1963 in the SNCC work in Georgia.

 — Pete de Lissovoy


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