Rev. Enoch Davis with Rev. Wayne G. Thompson in the 1970s.
By Gwendolyn Reese
On Oct. 27, 2017, The Weekly Challenger newspaper celebrated its 50th anniversary of publication and service to the community. The program included a segment titled, I AM: A tribute to our community’s legends and history makers. In keeping with its tagline: We Value Diversity. We Value Education. We Value History., the Challenger will continue to uplift community ancestors through a weekly feature under the heading “I AM.”
Enoch Douglas Davis (1908—1985) the youngest of 16 children was a reverend, author, and civil rights activist. His family moved to St. Petersburg in 1925 when he was a teenager. He held many jobs during his early years including paving the streets with Augusta blocks, unloading ships at the docks at night, spraying citrus trees, writing insurance claims, and working in cafeterias.
In January 1932, he began his service as the fourth pastor of Second Bethel Baptist Church. Under Davis, Second Bethel, which was eventually renamed Bethel Community Baptist Church, expanded its congregation from 180 to over 700 members and in 1971 established Bethel Community Heights, an 84-unit low-rent housing project for blacks and whites of low and middle income.
Rev. Davis published two books: “On the Bethel Trail” that chronicled the story of his ministry and his work in the Civil Rights Movement and “Toward the Promised Land.”
During the struggle for civil rights, Rev. Davis worked to end busing and school segregation, employee discrimination, to win voting rights for blacks, open the city’s beaches and public pools to the black community, and led his share of sit-ins at lunch counters and theaters.
When the Freedom Riders came to Florida in the late 1950s to protest interstate segregation laws, Rev. Davis allowed them to stay in his home and use the church as headquarters. With the help of his brother, the police, and several neighbors, he offered them protection from agitated segregationists. He earned several threats on his life for this and other civil rights work.
When black sanitation workers marched during a 116-day strike against the city in 1968, Rev. Davis marched with them. His work in civil rights earned him 11 honors, including the National Conference of Christians and Jews’ 1980 Silver Medallion Brotherhood Award. He was the first black recipient of the St. Petersburg Bar Association’s Liberty Bell Award for his efforts to maintain law and order and was the first black president of the St. Petersburg Council of Churches.
On Sept. 1981, the city honored Davis with the opening of the Enoch Davis Center, a multipurpose community center with a library, science center, a 250-seat auditorium and offices. Davis called this “one of my greatest honors.”
He retired after 52 years of service, which in 1984 was the longest-serving period by any pastor in St. Pete’s history.