George E. Davis – Rosenwald agent extraordinaire

Sketch of a Rosenwald community school. Photo:

One reason North Carolina had more Rosenwald Schools than any other state is the strong advocacy for their construction by Charlotte’s George E. Davis.

Davis was the first black professor at Biddle Institute, now Johnson C. Smith University. He taught mathematics, science and sociology during his 35-year tenure there. He became dean of the faculty in 1905 and retired from JCSU in 1920.

A tireless advocate for education, Davis became a Rosenwald agent, administering money for the Rosenwald Fund after retiring from Johnson C. Smith University. Agents like Davis helped process applications and coordinated with state departments of education.

“The Rosenwald Fund connected itself with the Progressive movement trying to get government to promote statewide education,” said Tom Hanchett, a local historian and a Rosenwald School scholar. “This was a very new concept at the time. They (Rosenwald Foundation) funded positions in state education offices for an African American administrator. Davis became a Rosenwald agent, which was the highest placed black government official in the state.”

“Davis wore out his car driving the dirt roads all over rural communities throughout the state looking to solicit support and raise seed money for the schools. He was a strong administrator and extraordinarily good with people at all levels of society. He had a gravitas that helped him convince people how important this was.”

Davis’s former home near the Johnson C. Smith University campus has been restored and is a local historic landmark. The Military and Global Leadership Academy at Marie G. Davis is named for his wife, also longtime educator.

Michael J. Solender is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.