Civil rights advocate Davis dies

She was the first Black woman on Leon County Commission 

Friends and family celebrated Anita Davis at Lake Henrietta Park in 2018.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

Anita Davis, who won a court challenge against Leon County that led to a change in the racial makeup of the Commission, has died. She was 84.

News of her death began to circulate on social media early Monday afternoon. The first official notice came from the Tallahassee chapter of the NAACP, which she led in the 1980s.

“It is with great sadness and respect that we extend our deepest condolences to her family and to the multitudes of friends and supporters from around the nation,” Mutaqee Akbar, President of the Tallahassee Branch of the NAACP, said in a statement. “In this most difficult time, we hope it is a comfort to her family, that the entire community mourns their loss and are praying for them at this sad time.”

Davis, was known to be battling illness for several months, but the cause of her death wasn’t disclosed.

Davis touched every aspect of local politics, a major part of her legacy that began when she was president of the local chapter of the NAACP. She was elected to the first of two terms in 1981. 

“Mrs. Davis was a champion for civil rights,” said Rev. RB Holmes, pastor at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, where she was a member. “She was a legend in this community and her good works will live on. She served for several decade as a fearless fighter and leader of the NAACP. She was a dedicated and committed member of  Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. She will be missed immensely but her works will live on.”

With the help from the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund in 1983, Davis filed suit over the county’s at-large only voting system and won.

The system changed to districts and that set the wheels in motion for Henry Lewis to launch a successful campaign. He became the first Black on the commission in 1986.

“That would have never happened without Anita Davis doing what she did,” said Lewis, who also served as president of FAMU in 2002. “It is a tremendous loss to Tallahassee and to civil rights in Tallahassee.”

At the end of Lewis’ first term, Davis won a seat on the commission to become the first Black woman on the board in 1990. She also held the distinction of being the only Black woman to serve two terms.

Her commitment to community didn’t wane at the end of her second term. She was president of the Jake Gaither Neighborhood Association, president of the Capital City Democratic Women’s Club.

Davis was paid tribute multiple times for her contributions to the quality of life in Tallahassee. A portion of her living room wall was lined with some of the plaques she’d been awarded.

One of her more recent honors is off of Spring Hill Rd, where the Anita L. Davis Preserve at Lake Henrietta Park is located. 

While serving as president of the NAACP, Davis founded the  Afro Academic Cultural Technological and Scientific Olympics  (ACT-SO) program, an achievement program designed to recruit, stimulate, and encourage high school academics.

“She was committed to each and every one of us doing the best we could,” said Delaitre Hollinger, an ACT-SO alumnus. “Mrs. Davis was committed to young people.”

 She was also known for being a community advocate and philanthropist. Hollinger, who is now president of the National Association for the Preservation of African American History and Culture, Inc., assisted with her neighborhood work.

Hollinger recalled how she would give Christmas gifts to the residents of the Gibb-Mabry Village, a low-income housing community.

“She would do it out of her own pocket. It didn’t matter to her,” an emotional Hollinger said. “She would give whatever was in her pocket and give it to whoever was asking. Anything that was bothering a person, she wanted to make sure that she would be able to assist in the situation.

“Until she took her last breath, she was about public service; what can I do from where I am to help people. I’m just saddened. I’m in pieces.”

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