Rev. France Davis describes his relationship with Dr. King, and his impact

Jan 17, 2022, 1:37 PM

Davis King...

Rev. France A. Davis speaks to community members gathered for a peaceful nonviolent rally at Washington Square in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 6, 2020. Organizers hope to shed light on current events, as well as the African American struggle, and to show support for local law enforcement. Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Civil rights and religious leader Reverend France Davis joined Utah’s Morning News to discuss the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.

Rev. Davis is a pastor emeritus at the Salt Lake City Calvary Baptist Church, where he has worked and served since 1974.

Beyond his religious leadership in Salt Lake City, Rev. Davis was involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Through his work, he got to know Dr. King personally. 

The fight for voting rights continues

Rev. Davis told Utah Morning News host Tim Hughes he thinks Dr. King would be displeased with how racism persists today. Specifically, he noted racism in the attitudes of the public and of some elected officials, even though racist policies such as legal segregation have been overturned.

Rev. Davis marched for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. King in 1965.

“For us, who were students, it was a time of excitement because we were making a positive difference for the citizens of Selma, Alabama, and of the country.”

Voting rights was a key focus of the civil rights movement and in Dr. King’s work. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices, was a successful outcome of the movement.
However, Rev. Davis said that now, voting rights are an issue once again. “There seems to be a reversal of the law,” he said, in reference to the Voting Rights Act, “so I think [Dr. King] would be disappointed in that regard.”

The fight for a national holiday

Rev. Davis was instrumental in the fight to get Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day recognized as a national holiday. In 1983, former President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 98-144, declaring that the third Monday of January would be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
The national holiday was first observed in 1986. 
As a result of his and others’ success in the fight for a national holiday in honor of Dr. King, protestors riddled his church office with bullets. 
“They burned mattresses and crosses in front of the building … the danger that people still demonstrate is very real … People don’t have the respect, the concern, of the care that they ought to have.” 
Utah’s Morning News host, Tim Hughes, noted the holiday wasn’t adopted in every state until 2000. 

A new season, same fight

Rev. Davis wants the public to remember more than just Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Instead, he wants people to remember Dr. King’s staunch opposition to other institutions, like the war in Vietnam at the time. 

Hughes noted it seemed Rev. Davis though had formally retired from certain work, he continues to work diligently in activism.  

Rev. Davis laughed and explained, his retirement marks a new season in his life, as opposed to an end to his life’s work. 

Utah Morning News with Tim Hughes and Amanda Dickson can be heard weekdays from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.

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Rev. France Davis describes his relationship with Dr. King, and his impact