Oral Histories

Interview of Lillie Davis

Ordained Dean at Westminster Presbyterian and civic activist with the Harvard Heights Block Club, different civic committees, and the American Red Cross. Serves on various courts of the church Presbytery, Synod, General Council, and women's division. Vice President of the national United Presbyterian Women.
Black Women Activists in Los Angeles, 1950-2000
African American History
Biographical Note:
Ordained Dean at Westminster Presbyterian and civic activist with the Harvard Heights Block Club, different civic committees, and the American Red Cross. Serves on various courts of the church Presbytery, Synod, General Council, and women's division. Vice President of the national United Presbyterian Women.
Stevenson, Alva Moore
Davis, Lillie
Persons Present:
Davis and Stevenson.
Place Conducted:
Davis' home in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alva Moore Stevenson, Interviewer and Program Representative, UCLA Center For Oral History Research; B.A., English and M.A., African American Studies (Latin American Concentration), UCLA.Stevenson prepared for the interviews by reviewing files of Davis's life and career in addition to secondary sources on Black women activists and the history of Blacks in Los Angeles. Stevenson, as a native of Los Angeles, was already well-versed in much of the history of the Black community.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Stevenson was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a number of corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series documents black women’s activism in Los Angeles from 1950 to the present, showing how women’s roles in the professions and in religious, civic, and social organizations translated into community activism to address disparities in education, healthcare, housing and political rights and access.
Birth in New Bern, North Carolina--Grandparents’ Ancestry--Membership in Seminole and Cherokee nations--Father’s occupation as brickmason--Parents separation--Davis’s placement with family in NC--Attending boarding school for light-skinned black children--Reason for its establishment--White and Native American students--Segregated neighborhoods in Tarboro--Floods during Carter Administration--Working in Washington D.C. hospital--Eleanor Roosevelt--Black history--Foregrounding history of all people--Attending Tarboro High School--Inside bathrooms--Mother’s baking--Helpful whites during segregation--Post WWII changes--Awareness of race and skin color--Intra-racial bias--Role of religion in upbringing--Member of Methodist Church--Segregated housing patterns in Los Angeles--Preference of careers--Obtaining California teaching license--Emphasis on education--Attending college--Differences between Washington D.C. and North Carolina--Mother’s admonitions about white establishments--Parents teach protest and resistance against segregation--Davis’s siblings succumb to 1918 flu epidemic--Conditions of park owner donation to city--Biddy Mason--Foreign-born blacks' observations on U.S. racism and segregation--Davis’s travels--Impressions of Eleanor Roosevelt--Her assistance with Davis’s education and career--FDR’s attempts to break segregation--Class-based segregation in China and Japan--Decision to pursue food service career--Donating blood--Course of study at Wilberforce--Black contributors to American history--Integrating Davis’s neighborhood--Interaction with neighbors.
Riding a segregated train--Mother’s mployer a Klan member--Desegregation in North Carolina--Post-flood support from President Carter--Mother’s voting experience--Inclusive teaching of history--Mother’s experience as a midwife--Learning about sex--Discriminatory employment requirements--Husband’s position at Golden State Mutual Life Insurance--Restrictive housing covenants--Skin-darkening treatments--Block clubs take case to court--Davis’s house on historic register--Interactions with neighbor--Direction of career after coming to Los Angeles--USC attempts to seize land--Employment at North American Aircraft--Advantage of Davis’s skin color--Property hearings--Trolley on La Salle Avenue--Segregation in employment--Hostility towards light-skinned blacks--Impact of WW II on daily life--Demographic change--Central Avenue--Establishing churches in the community--Obtaining business loans--Central Avenue business district--Dunbar Hotel--Pickaninnies--Assistance of Eleanor Roosevelt--Millionaires Town--Reason for leaving Santa Barbara.
Traveling to follow Negro League games--Significance of Negro League--Providing housing for interracial couple--Trip to Little Rock during school desegregation--Interactions with whites in Mississippi--Surprise at segregation in Washington D.C.--Employment in Los Angeles--Surprise at segregation in Los Angeles--Husband’s occupation--Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company--Block clubs--USC seeking land for expansion of10 (Santa Monica) Freeway--Proscriptions on historic home renovations--Civil rights marches in Los Angeles--Church Women United--Home in Val Verde--Red Cross volunteer--Blood donors--Blacks refuse agricultural and domestic work--Experiences riding public transit--More on Red Cross--Demographic changes--Reading Revelations in the Bible--Blood donors of color--Lack of donor centers--Holy Rollers.
Housing restrictions in late 1930s--Breaking housing barriers in 1940s--Restrictions on public accommodations--Support for March on Selma--More on housing restrictions--Comparison of U.S. and foreign living conditions--Travel overseas--Colored and white signage in North Carolina--Integration of public accommodations in North Carolina--Black children of segregationist legislators--Watts Rebellion of 1965--Neighborhood block clubs--Historic Harvard Heights homes--Fight against freeway and developers--Blacks in local government--Block club representative--Interactions with neighbors--Involvement with Red Cross--Ban on blood donations from blacks--Home in Val Verde--Significance of Val Verde--Advocate for a safe neighborhood--Mayor Tom Bradley--Views on black nationalist groups--Female bus drivers--Davis's renters--Learning when to stay silent--Black students at UCSB--Job ads for "light-skinned coloreds only"--Cuts in services--Nation in recession--1992 rebellion--Segregated buses in Tarboro--Mother's funeral.
Westminster Presbyterian Church.