A remembrance ceremony for W. Harry Davis Sr. was held on Wednesday, April 12, at the Friendship Academy of the Arts, in celebration of what would have been his 100th birthday. Students gathered to hear W. Harry Davis Jr. give a presentation in honor of his late father, a pioneer in Minneapolis athletics, politics, and education, alongside the Hiawatha Foundation board members Judge Lajune Lange and John J. Henry.
“Today we honor a great civil rights leader,” Judge Lange told the MSR. “Mr. Davis won nine gold medals for the U.S. Olympic boxing team as a coach. He served on the Minneapolis School Board and chaired the Urban Coalition. He was a golfer at Hiawatha Golf Course and supporter of youth through Phyllis Wheatley Community Center.”
In 2002, Davis, Sr. published his autobiography, “Overcoming,” which won a Minnesota Book Award. The title of his book is fitting, considering the challenges he faced in achieving success, including suffering from polio as a child and being Minneapolis’ first Black mayoral candidate in 1971.
His son, Davis Jr., shared his own experience growing up in Minneapolis. He recalled his first Black teacher, Earl Bowman, famous Black athletes, and Minneapolis’ first African American and woman mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton. W. Harry Davis Sr. once served as a mentor to Belton. The importance of Black role models was part of the discussion by students, who participated in the ceremony.
After the presentation, John J. Henry gave a golf demonstration and held a small competition for students to practice putting with a golf club. The students proved to be quick learners and stormed the court for the winner, who received Davis Sr.’s second book, “Changemaker.”
“My father was committed all his life to serving youth, making young people the best citizens they could be, and the best they could be in education,” Davis said, following the event. “My father set a record by being a member of the Minneapolis School Board for 21 consecutive years from 1969 to 1990, because his philosophy was the more energy, direction, and mentorship we give our youth, who are future leaders of the country, the better they will be as leaders and take on the statesmanship that he taught them.
“The event at the Friendship Academy of the Arts was a classic example of adults taking the message to the young people of how valuable they are, how much we appreciate them, and to support them in any education, or athletic endeavor they take to make their lives better,” said Davis. “And our commitment to Hiawatha Golf Course, which is part of the community that my father and his uncles and other citizens played at, is another example of committing to the community, the value of a golf course and the value of the camaraderie to help our youth become better citizens,” he continued.
The Hiawatha Foundation was created, “to help tell the story of African Americans’ legacy and lived experiences at Hiawatha Golf Course,” according to its website. The course was a meeting place for civil rights trailblazers in Minneapolis from 1950-70. The Foundation is supporting the course’s designation on the National Historic Register, to commemorate the decades-long effort to bring equality of opportunity to every aspect of community life.
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