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Griffith J. Davis. His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie feeding his ducks in the pond of the Imperial Palace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,1950: Cover story of Ebony’s 5th Anniversary issue November 1950. Digital black and white print. 12 x 12 in. Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Archives.

Griffith J. Davis. His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie feeding his ducks in the pond of the Imperial Palace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,1950: Cover story of Ebony’s 5th Anniversary issue November 1950. Digital black and white print. 12 x 12 in. Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Archives.

STILL HERE: The Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Archives in Context

January 22 – March 06, 2021
USF Contemporary Art Museum West Gallery

Still Here is curated by Dorothy M. Davis, President of Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Archives; Christian Viveros-Fauné, CAM Curator at Large; and Noel Smith, CAM Deputy Director and Curator of Latin American and Caribbean Art; and organized by USFCAM. 

CAM Galleries Will Be Open for USF Faculty, Staff, and Students - Reservations Required 

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ONLINE EXHIBITION

Exhibition Home    //   Foreword + Acknowledgements    //    Introduction by Dorothy M. Davis    //   Essay by Christian Viveros-Fauné

 

INTRODUCTION

Our mother, Muriel Corrin Davis, took her first trip on a plane from New York to Monrovia, Liberia, in March 1952, to marry our Dad, Griffith Jerome Davis. In his marriage proposal letter to her he said that she would have to join him in Liberia for their wedding. He had to finish editing the film Pepperbird Land, which Liberia’s President William V.S. Tubman had commissioned. The film was being narrated in Liberia by an emerging actor named Sidney Poitier. The wedding was the culmination of our parents’ initial friendship as students at Spelman College and Morehouse College in Dad’s hometown of Atlanta, followed by a post-college courtship in New York City. Dad’s story and photographs from their “Global Honeymoon”—the trip included stops in Kakata, Liberia, Lisbon, Portugal, Paris, France, and Madrid, Spain, before a return to New York City—was published under that very headline in Ebony magazine’s September 1952 issue.

Griff Davis’ preferred media for creating his outstanding images were the camera, the pen, and typewriter rather than a paintbrush and canvas. After graduating from Morehouse College in 1947, Davis became the first Roving Editor of Ebony magazine at the recommendation of his professor, mentor and lifelong friend Langston Hughes to the publication’s Founder and Publisher John H. Johnson. Hughes subsequently recommended him to attend Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism as the only African American in the Class of 1949. While attending Columbia, Davis rented a room in Hughes’ Harlem home. He also took courses at the New School for Social Research with Kurt Safranski, cofounder of Black Star Publishing Company, the first privately owned picture agency in the United States. Upon graduation, he became the only African American international freelance photojournalist for Black Star and started shooting and filing stories from Liberia, Ethiopia, Ghana and elsewhere between 1949 and 1952. His work appeared in such publications as Fortune, Time, Atlanta Daily World, Modern Photography, Saturday Evening Post, New York Times, Ebony and Der Spiegel. His exclusive article and photographs for the article "The Private Life of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia" was the cover story for Ebony’s 5th anniversary issue of November 1950.

In 1952, he passed the U. S Foreign Service exam and became a pioneer African American Foreign Service Officer and founder of U.S. President Harry Truman’s Point Four Program (a predecessor to the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID). Our parents’ first diplomatic post was to the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, the first U.S. Embassy in Liberia and simultaneously in Africa led by the first African American US Ambassador Edward R. Dudley. Our subsequent posts were to newly independent Tunisia (1957-1961) and Nigeria during the Biafran War (1966-1971).

From 1952-1985, Davis worked in many capacities for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). He traveled to more than 25 of Africa’s then 51 countries (in 1985), and served as an advisor to several African governments as well as to the U.S. Bureau of Africa and the Bureau for Population and Humanitarian Assistance. He assisted the governments of Liberia and Tunisia in establishing their ministries of information and broadcasting; assisted the federal regional ministries of education in Nigeria in using radio and television for educational purposes; and served as Deputy Chief Education Officer of USAID in Lagos. For ten years, he directed the Information, Education and Communication Branch of USAID’s Population Office, which provided family planning training for some 1500 foreign nationals from 102 countries. In 1981, his nomination to the U.S. Foreign Service with the rank of Counselor was ratified by the U.S. Senate. He retired as Senior Foreign Service Officer in 1985.

Throughout his 35-year diplomatic career, Davis was an advisor to emerging African governments and influenced their development policies in communications, education, population and economic development. With his ever-present camera, but also through film and writing, he captured and documented the private and public moments of key leaders and personalities at the heart of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and the Independence Movement of Africa.

To date exhibitions of his photography have included: the solo exhibition Liberia 1952, commissioned by Liberian President William V. S. Tubman at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (1952); the Smithsonian’s traveling Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present (2000-2003), curated by Deborah Willis; the U.S. Supreme Court’s Reading the Law: Legal Education in America (2015-2017), and Griff Davis-Langston Hughes, Letters and Photographs, 1947-1967: A Global Friendship, at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts (2020). On October 1, 2020, Davis was posthumously awarded the Lifetime Achievement Impact Award by the Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts at the organization’s 31st Annual Impact Awards (Virtual) Program.

Still Here: The Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Archives in Context is the first time the full range of Davis’ images has been publicly shown along with their back stories. We are very excited to have his photographs and films complemented by the works of extraordinary artists like Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Emory Douglas, Deana Lawson, Zanele Muholi and Hank Willis Thomas.

Thanks to Professor Antoinette Jackson, Chair of the USF Anthropology Department, Margaret Miller, Director and Professor, USF Institute for Research in Art, Noel Smith, Deputy Director of CAM, Christian Viveros- Fauné, CAM Curator-at-large, the entire USFCAM team and all of the sponsors of this exhibition.

Dorothy M. Davis
Co-curator and
President, Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Archives 

 

 

Still Here is supported by a USF Understanding and Addressing Blackness and Anti-Black Racism in Our Local, National, and International Communities Research Grant; Susana and Yann Weymouth; Mort and Sara Richter; Major Sponsor The Stanton Storer Embrace the Arts Foundation; and the Florida Department of State.