The Davis family: contributors to Minnesota’s Black history

Harry Davis holding boxing plaque.
Harry Davis holding boxing plaque.

The year was 1867, and the Civil War raged on. A young man of Native and African American descent was sent to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, to be stationed there in the fight for freedom. He remained there for the duration of the war. His name: John Wesley Harper, the great grandfather of Harry Davis.

In 1868 when the war came to an end, Harper decided to make Minnesota his home. One hundred forty-six years later, the Davis family continues to reside here in the Minneapolis area of Minnesota, and for seven generations they have made significant contributions to this city and state.

Harry Davis, Jr. provided the Spokesman-Recorder newspaper with family information that reflects their contributions, which have helped build the historical value the family has contributed not only to this state, but also to this country.

His father, Harry Davis, was born in 1923 in North Minneapolis and graduated from North High School in 1941. Showing their willingness to evolve as fighters, he went on to become a boxing coach at the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center from 1941 to 1959. In his 18 years there, the Phyllis Wheately boxing team won more city and state titles than any other team in Minnesota state history.

He was married to Charlotte Napue in 1942 and remained with her until her death 61 years later. He exampled the importance of Black families staying intact, having four children, 13 grandchildren and three great grandchildren. His boxing career included being named a USA Olympic Boxing Team coach in 1989, a team that included soon-to-be heavy weight champion Evander Holyfield. Harry Davis was later inducted into the National Amateur Boxing Hall of Fame.

The Davis family were courageous fighters, which included defending this country over and over again, starting with the Civil War. Harry Davis, Jr.’s grandfather fought in World War I, his brother in World War II, he had two uncles who fought in the Korean War, several cousins in Vietnam, and a great nephew who just returned from Afghanistan.

The Davises were not only military, but they were also very athletic, and they stayed with their families while making major contributions to better African Americans here in Minnesota and throughout the country.

Lee Davis, Harry Davis, Jr.’s grandfather, was a catcher in the Negro Baseball League, playing for the Kansas City Monarchs when Satchel Paige was a pitcher there. Harry Davis, Jr., during this interview, went on to state, “The way to succeed in any society is with a strong family base. If your family is strong, with good role modeling, you can take on any issues. You must love who you are, and love your identity.”

Harry Davis, Jr. remains very active in the community on several fronts, after spending 40 years in the banking industry. He remains on the Board of Trustees for TCF Bank, and he continues to help raise money to assist college students in need.

He says, “Post-secondary education is very important. Our youth must have some kind of education after high school to be competitive.”

Raymond Jackson welcomes reader responses to