July 12, 1980: Educator John W. Davis Dies in New Jersey

Jul 12, 2017

Davis stepped down from West Virginia State in 1951, after 32 years at the helm.
Credit E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Educator John Warren Davis died in New Jersey on July 12, 1980, at age 92. The Georgia native moved to Kanawha County in 1919 to become president of what was then called West Virginia Collegiate Institute. 

He quickly bolstered the school’s faculty and curriculum, making it one of the first four black colleges in the United States—and the first public college in West Virginia—to be accredited. In 1929, it became West Virginia State College—and is now a University.

Under Davis’s leadership, West Virginia State College was one of the nation’s leading black colleges. The college developed the Washington-Carver black 4-H camp in Fayette County, established a field artillery ROTC program, and trained black pilots, several of whom became Tuskegee Airmen in World War II.

Davis stepped down from West Virginia State in 1951, after 32 years at the helm. In 1954, he joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where he worked with Thurgood Marshall on lawsuits related to desegregation and other civil rights. In later years, John W. Davis was one of the nation’s leading spokesmen for black higher education.