Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Remembering Clara Ford Davis, Voting Rights Advocate

Clara Ford Davis, Feb. 20, 2006.
Photographer: Regi Butvydas
Clara Davis collection: 2012.021.001
March is Women’s History Month, and this year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” We are also celebrating the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment, which states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

In honor of Women’s History Month and celebration of these two Amendments, this writer would like to remember Clara Ford Davis for her outstanding service to the Bossier Parish community as an advocate for voting rights and human rights.

Davis was of voting age during a time when African Americans were prevented from registering to vote in Bossier Parish. In 1952, the Bossier Parish Registrar of Voters was issued an injunction by the U.S. Courts for violating the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs in the case. During the lawsuit, it was revealed that out of the 13,912 African Americans living in Bossier Parish at that time, there were none registered to vote. And for the 31 years that the Registrar of Voters had been in office thus far, she “employed, ‘consistent and patent discrimination,’” according to Judge Gaston L. Porterie, who presided over the case.

In the following Shreveport Times article written by Harry Thomas, which appeared in Nov. 26, 1997 issue, Davis shares her experience of registering to vote in Bossier Parish in 1955, three years after the injunction.

“More than four decades have passed since Clara Davis and her fellow voting rights workers walked boldly into the Bossier Parish Courthouse to have their names placed on voter registration rolls.

“Davis, who today works as Bossier voter poll commissioner, said she and members of the Bossier Parish Voters League were among the first people to register to vote during 1955.

“’ I remember it was about four of us that went to Benton to vote,’ Davis said. ‘Before we went, we had to practice how to answer the questions they would give us.

“’ We were told to sit on the floor. But that didn’t matter, we had God with us.’

“After becoming a registered voter, Davis said she did not quit fighting injustices against blacks in Bossier Parish. She said she wanted to help others become voters. ‘Things were tough back then. We took a lot of risk,’ Davis said. ‘I’ve always tried to make things better for people, I will never quit doing that.’

“In fact, Davis, who resides in Haughton, said she has dedicated her life to improving the quality of life for citizens in her community. She was a strong advocate for issues facing the defunct voters league, public education, NAACP and now the Bossier Parish Concerned Citizens group.

“Jerry Hawkins, president of the concerned citizens group, said Davis’ work as a community activist has impacted lives of citizens throughout the parish.

“’ She has been doing it for 45 years,’ Hawkins said. ‘She has been a dedicated public servant. She has never quit trying to serve this community.’

“Davis, who attends St. Paul CME church, raised six children with her husband, Shellie. In 1974, she began her work as a precinct commissioner.

“Today, Davis said her work with the concerned citizens group includes being an advocate for quality education, civil rights and encouraging others to become registered voters. She also wants to see more blacks become certified as voting poll workers.

“’ It just grieves my spirit when I see people not voting,’ she said. “I don’t understand why people will not register. We had to go through so much to vote. They don’t have to do that now.’

“John Jones, who was a charter member of the historical black voters league, said Davis is an unsung hero in voting rights and human rights in Bossier Parish.

“’ Whatever she gets, she really deserves it,’ Jones said. ‘She and I worked together for years. She has been a faithful leader in this community.”

To learn more about Clara Ford Davis and the many ways in which she gave back to the Bossier Parish community, visit the Bossier Parish Libraries History Center. And be sure to join us in welcoming special guest speaker Carolyn Jones as she presents “Beauty and the Ballot Box: Honoring Contributions of African-American Cosmetologists in the Voter Rights Movement” on Saturday, Mar. 14 at 2 p.m., in the History Center meeting room, 2206 Beckett Street, Bossier City.

By: Amy Robertson

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