Fred Davis, a political pathfinder and a gentle but effective presence in Memphis affairs for more than half a century, died Tuesday at his home. In 1967, he achieved two milestones: He founded the Fred Davis Insurance Company, one of the largest and most influential such black-owned enterprises in the South, and he was elected as a member of the first Memphis City Council under the current Mayor-Council form of government.
He became a leader of the Memphis African-American community during a crucial phase of local history and helped ease the city through the period of crisis that included an epochal sanitation strike and the tragic death by assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, whom Davis had marched with.
Then and later, he would remain one of the most well-liked people in public life. Remembers Memphis Congressman Stever Cohen: “I’ve known Fred Davis for close to 50 years. There wasn’t a finer, nicer gentleman in politics and government during that period. Mr. Davis brought people together. He was a strong voice for Orange Mound and he was an important member of and was devoted to his beloved Beulah Baptist Church.
“Mr. Davis encouraged young African Americans to study hard and be successful. It’s a shame he won’t have the large public funeral he deserves during this ongoing pandemic because it would have been immense in numbers and diversity, and a tribute to a life well-lived. He will be missed.”
As Mayor Jim Strickland noted, the Innovation Center at the Entrepreneurs Network Center was named for Davis, acknowledging the inspirational force of his example as a black business owner.“
Davis was a longtime deacon and board member of Beulah Baptist Church in Orange Mound for 60 years. He leaves his wife, Ella Singleton Davis, and three children: Michael Davis, Marvin Davis and Sheila Davis.