tampabay.com

Honoring pastor to all the city

By JON WILSON
Published September 27, 2006


Visionary leaders and courageous spirits, like the Rev. Enoch D. Davis, who died 21 years ago this Friday, have always blessed St. Petersburg.

Last week, the family center bearing his name celebrated 25 years of helping people make a go of life. That, in essence, is what the Rev. Davis did for 60 years in St. Petersburg. His ministry embraced all the city and all people of all races.

He was a gentleman. He could have been anyone's hero.

I remember the Rev. Davis from the 1970's when he would amble into the offices of the Evening Independent, the city's afternoon newspaper until it closed in 1986.

Tall, slender, wearing a broad smile and greeting all present, the Rev. Davis usually carried a batch of typewritten pages. It was a manuscript for a book he was writing, and Mike Richardson, the Independent's associate editor, was helping the pastor edit it.

On the Bethel Trail told the story of the Rev. Davis' years in St. Petersburg, in the pulpit and on the streets. He arrived here as a gangly 17-year-old in 1925. He went right to work for Georgia Engineering Co., laying August bricks in Allendale, Rio Vista and up Ninth Street during the city's first boom.

After work, he strolled 22nd Street S, which was quickly becoming an African-American main street and social center.

Wrote Richardson: "I was struck by so much history walking around inside one man."

Richardson also liked to quote one of the Rev. Davis' favorite sayings: "You're only as free as the length of your chain."

The pastor fought for the concept. He joined the stout-hearted bands who integrated the city's lunch counters and movie houses. He helped shelter the Freedom Riders when they visited St. Petersburg. He marched with sanitation workers when in 1968, in what was the city's watershed civil rights event, they struck for better pay and working conditions. He ran for the City Council.

Don Jones, a former mayor, wrote an afterword for On the Bethel Trail. "He built bridges - he didn't burn them," Jones said.

The Rev. Davis was called to Bethel Community Baptist Church in 1932. It seemed he never really retired. In 1962, he issued the church's policy on open membership, declaring Bethel open to all and that church membership should never be based on race.

That's what people mean when they talk about the Rev. Davis having been pastor to all the city.

His legacy is worthy today. You can't help but think of him upon seeing people take to the streets, trying to end community violence.

It is a time of crisis, and if he were here, the Rev. Davis would be beside them. In spirit, no doubt he is.