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William Allison Davis was born October 14, 1902, in Washington, D.C., to John Abraham Davis, a government employee, and Gabrielle Dorothy Beale Davis, a homemaker. As a child, Davis was exposed to an array of intellectual and cultural interests, including the works of Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, and other writers. Davis attended M-Street High School (later renamed Dunbar High School), which was known for its talented faculty and rigorous curriculum.

Davis received his B.A. degree in 1924 from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He was named class valedictorian, graduated summa cum laude, and earned membership in the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. After graduation he applied for a teaching assistantship at Williams, but he was denied the position. Undaunted, Davis applied for admittance to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard accepted him, and in 1925 he received his M.A. degree in English.

Davis then ...

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Jayne R. Beilke

social anthropologist, psychologist, and educator, was born William Allison Davis in Washington, D.C., the son of John Abraham Davis, a federal employee, and Gabrielle Dorothy Beale, a homemaker. His younger brother John Aubrey Davis became a civil rights activist and educator. He also had a sister, Dorothy. Davis enrolled at Williams College in Massachusetts, where segregationist policies prevented him from living on campus. He earned a BA in English and was the valedictorian of the class of 1924. From 1925 to 1932 he taught English literature at Hampton Institute, an historically black school in Virginia. One of his students at Hampton was the sociologist St. Clair Drake Jr., who later collaborated with Davis and Gunnar Mydal on The Negro Church and Associations in the Lower South: Research Memorandum [and] The Negro Church and Associations in Chicago (1940).

Davis earned an MA ...