Mobile street name to honor Jim Crow-era murder victim

July 24, 2018

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — A Mobile street will be named in honor of a victim of a racially motivated Jim Crow-era murder.

Al.com reports the agenda item calling for Tennessee Street to also be named in honor of Rayfield Davis was initially listed under resolutions being introduced, which means it would have been held over for a week for consideration. But District 3 Councilman C.J. Small asked that it be reclassified as a consent resolution, meaning it could be approved immediately, which the city council unanimously did Tuesday.

Davis was a janitor at Mobile’s Brookley Air Force Base. On March 7, 1948, Davis and a mechanic argued. Davis reportedly told the man that equality was coming for whites and blacks, which enraged the man to the point that he beat Davis to death.

Davis’ body was left in a ditch on Tennessee Street.

In 2015, the Civil Rights & Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University School of Law began a re-examination of racially motivated killings in the South between 1930 and 1970. The History Museum of Mobile has worked as a partner with the group to develop exhibits about such killings in the Mobile area.

A March 1948 account published in The Chicago Defender suggests a substantially different interpretation of Davis’ death.

Headlined “Dixie Fantasy,” it identifies the assailant as Horace Miller, 20, a white man from Durant, Mississippi, and says the confrontation occurred after the two got off a city bus at a nearby stop. The article suggested that Miller may have assaulted the 53-year-old Davis during a robbery attempt and then fabricated the exchange about equality to cover up his criminal intent.

If the Defender account is accurate, the logic is that the white assailant believed he wouldn’t be held accountable for killing a black man, if he said the black man had antagonized him with talk about equality. The outcome was that a grand jury in fact opted not to indict Miller.

According to information provided by the Civil Rights & Restorative Justice Project, its work and the History Museum of Mobile’s exhibits will honor Davis and five other racially motivated killings. The public is invited to attend the Aug. 18 ceremony “on Tennessee and Broad Streets, where he was killed to honor his life and legacy” and then to visit the museum to view the related exhibition.

In an honorary renaming, a street retains its green street signs and residents’ addresses do not change. New brown streets signs are added, showing the honorary designation.

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