Dorothy Pauline Davis is a native of Berryville, Clarke County, Virginia and graduated from Johnson-Williams High School, the school designated for Blacks, before integration. Since returning to the Clarke County area in 2000, Ms. Davis has served on the board of directors of Josephine School Community Museum, the Berkeley County/Martinsburg NAACP Chapter as vice-president and The Clermont Foundation.
This year Dorothy was recognized as the American Association of University Women “Woman of the Year” for Winchester, Virginia. AAUW is a nationwide network of more than 100,000 members and donors, 1,000 branches, and 500 college/university institution partners. For 130 years, AAUW members have examined and taken positions on the fundamental issues of the day — educational, social, economic, and political – while working to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.
In honor of her life-long commitment and service to our community, the Clarke Daily News is pleased and privileged to present Dorothy Davis in her own words.
CDN: How does it make you feel to have received the AAUW of Winchester Woman of the Year award?
Davis: This is an honor which is overwhelming. I could have never dreamed of being recognized in this manner. I work with so many women who are far more worthy than I. All my associates deserve a portion of the award.
CDN: Describe your education and subsequent academic career.
Davis: My higher education degrees are from St. Paul’s College, Lawrenceville, Virginia where I majored in general science with a minor in biology. After completing graduate work at Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland, I taught school in Alexandria, Virginia and Columbia, Maryland. I retired after 32 years of teaching science classes in biology, earth science and astronomy. My subject area expertise is STEM – science, technology, engineering and math.
CDN: Your professional career spanned the Civil Rights era. In addition to the obvious racial challenges, were there other challenges that you encountered professionally?
Davis: The professional challenges that I encountered were basically negative interactions with a high school principal and staff who did not want me on the faculty. I was one of two African American teachers who integrated the faculty of a high school in Alexandria in the early 1960s. If you saw the movie “The Titans”, I was a member of the faculty of the school which had the all-white football team. The movie was slightly inaccurate but that’s Hollywood.
CDN: You’re known as a crusader when it comes to justice and equal rights issues. What inspired you to devote so much of your life to the causes of liberty and equality?
Davis: My mother and grandmother always taught my sister and me to give back to our community. As a child I remember seeing my grandmother feed strangers who knocked on the door and asked for water and food. She would set up a card table and chair in the yard and feed strangers. Neighbors were always invited to holiday meals at our home.
When I was about 11 years old I recall a bus trip to Charlottesville to visit my paternal grandparents. My mother, sister and I rode the bus (I think it was a Greyhound bus) from Winchester to Charlottesville. It was a “local” bus, meaning it stopped in almost every town along the way. When the bus stopped in Staunton, riders were able to get off the bus to get food. My mother left us on the bus and went to buy sandwiches for us. While she was purchasing the sandwiches, other folks boarded the bus—some being white. The bus driver made my sister and me move further to the back of the bus. When my mother re-boarded the bus she was extremely angry with the driver and expressed her anger in no uncertain terms—toe-to-toe and face-to-face. I remember being very fearful for her as we subscribed to five papers in our home – two daily papers and three weekly papers. Two of the weekly papers were The Norfolk Journal and Guide and The Washington Afro-American (both black publications) where I had read about lynchings, beatings and burnings, etc. of blacks in the South. During the remainder of the bus ride I was fearful that someone would attack my mother or arrest her. When I told her my feelings, her reply was “You must always speak up for your rights no matter what happens”. That statement has remained etched in my brain. Even today I still remember how frightened I was for her. I garner strength from her.
CDN: You’re a board member at the Josephine School Community Museum. You are also active in the local NAACP chapter, the Coalition for Racial Unity and the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum. What other causes do you devote time to and how do you find the time and energy to be so involved?
Davis: I’m also involved in an academic scholars program in Berkeley County. It is an initiative to recruit capable students from low economic groups and underserved populations and encourage them to enroll in high level classes in high school. I am a mentor in the program and enjoy seeing the students develop their confidence and become outstanding scholars. I’m also one of the sponsors of the Shenandoah Valley Cotillion. I enjoy working with young people.
CDN: You’ve said many times that the fight for racial equality has not yet been won. What are some of the local issues or cases that you are following and why?
Davis: There are so many local issues which come to mind – especially those which involve inequities in the local justice system and the education system. There seems to be action in the state of Virginia to diminish individual voting rights. I’m afraid we will regress to paying poll taxes again. Citizens must be vigilant.
CDN: Who are the local role models that shaped your views on equal rights and why?
Davis: My mother, grandmother and family members shaped my views. Currently, I’m amazed and greatly admire Ethel Doherty (and her late husband John) for their contributions to humanity. They truly worked to make this a better place to live.
CDN: Josephine School has played a key role in the Clarke County community for 130 years. What is your vision for Josephine School’s next 130 years?
Davis: I hope the Josephine School Museum continues to be a place which educates the masses about the legacy of Black people in this area. I hope, with more support, it will continue to develop as a repository for Black History.
CDN: What are some of your interests when you’re not volunteering?
Davis: I enjoy gardening and traveling to Europe to visit my son, Kelly. I continue to enjoy astronomy and paleontology and I do yoga for relaxation.
CDN: What advice do you offer to young women today as they leave high school and prepare to enter the adult world?
Davis: My advice to young women of today; Education, education!!! Get as much education as possible. Be prepared and there is nothing you can’t do!!! And as my mother said, “Speak up for your rights”.