BRONX AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWER: Brian Purnell, Peter Derrick
INTERVIEWEE: Gloria Davis
SUMMARY BY: Patrick O’Donnell
Keywords: Bronx native, southern segregation, segregation in the Bronx, economic downturn, milking buildings, Bronx governance, district leader, burning buildings, political clubs, Jackson Democratic political club
Gloria Davis was born on February 9, 1938, at Morrisania hospital in the Bronx. From the ages of 4 to 12, she was raised in Gainesville, Florida by her grandmother, since her mother felt that she was unfit to raise a daughter by herself at that time. Davis then moved back to the Bronx to live with her mother, and Davis has stayed in the Bronx ever since. She is the mother of six, the grandmother of thirteen, and the great-grandmother of six. She lost a 12-year old daughter in 1972, and she ran for district leader the same year, partially “to keep [her] sanity.” She served as district leader from 1972-1978, lost a 1978 bid for the State Assembly, worked as a community activist, and won the State Assembly seat in 1980. Davis lived with her grandmother, who was a domestic worker at the University of Florida. During her time in Florida she and her family experienced racial segregation first-hand. Davis was especially influenced by her grandmother, Nettie. She was a hard worker, and insisted that her grandchildren attend Church, and she was very strict. She kept a gun in the house and was willing to use it if circumstances demanded. By the time she moved back to the Bronx, whites were moving out of the Bronx and Latinos and African-Americans were moving in. African-Americans were not allowed to spend time in certain Bronx neighborhoods like the Grand Concourse unless they had an excuse for being there, such as cleaning apartments. Neither African-Americans nor Latinos were especially welcome in the community-- they were especially resented by the Irish-Americans. During this time Morrisania was predominately black, and was one of the neighborhoods subsequently named a “black slave market.” Davis attended Morris high school, which was a mix of blacks, Latinos, and whites. She enjoyed school, and found the environment encouraging. Nevertheless, she dropped out of school, married a Catholic, and temporarily converted from her Pentecostal faith to Catholicism in order to raise her children in the Catholic faith. She earned an associate’s degree later on in life. She was unemployed until she and her husband split, and then her first job was as a worker for the 1970 census. She joined a Democratic political club, which was an organization that helped its members get jobs in governance and management. The Jackson Democratic political club produced many black and white judges and other workers in city government, and Davis herself became the female district leader from 1972-1978 as a result of her involvement in the club. She lost a bid for the State Assembly in 1978 and won in 1980. At different points in the interview, Davis mentions that her involvement with the Jackson Democratic political club coincided with some of the darkest economic times in the Bronx. Many landlords were “milking” their buildings, meaning that they demanded rent without taking responsibility for any of the upkeep. As is well-known, landlords paid people to set fire to other landlords’ buildings so that they could collect insurance money and count on the favor being returned.