Judge Clifford Davis was denied admission to the University of Arkansas for the color of his skin in 1948. On Saturday, he was given an honorary law degree.
“In ’46 I wrote on my own and made an application to go to the University of Arkansas. The dean here wrote and said I couldn’t come at this time.” Davis said.
Davis is recognized nationally as a civil rights pioneer, but he is also an unsung hero in the effort to integrate the University of Arkansas.
“The fall of ’47, he finally indicated that they were making plans to arrange for my enrollment. But they wanted me to pay tuition in advance “We sent back the letter to the University that the catalog didn’t require anybody else to pay in advance and I wouldn’t pay in advance.” Davis said.
Davis refused to be treated less than others who were attending the university. His persistence, and the threat of lawsuits, were key reasons the law school integrated in 1948.
“In 1948 they called a press conference here and announced that I had applied and admitted if I showed up to the law school.” Davis said.
Although Judge Davis denied the offer to come to the University, he still paved the way for the first African American student to attend the University.
“A lawyer from Pine Bluff brought a fella named Silas Hunt up to the law school and he was admitted but they had a separate training facility, for instance they had a room where he had his classes and he could not go to the library. He couldn’t go to the restroom.” Davis said.
Thanks to Davis’ determination, his great nephew, Lionel Davis II, graduated with an engineering degree on Saturday from the very school that denied him over seven decades ago.
“Being 71 years later it’s warming knowing that because of him, I can. If it wasn’t for pioneers like himself who pushed forward and ensured equality was served amongst all the races, I wouldn’t be standing here before you today.” Lionel Davis said.
Davis didn’t stop at the integration of the University. He went on to play an integral part in the de-segregation of schools in the Dallas- Fort Worth area, and even has a school named after him.