Celestine Bell Davis

Another daughter of Oak Park High in Laurel, Mississippi, Celestine Davis worked her up from a teacher’s aide in the 1960s to become of Erie’s great educators. Her long career was nurtured by the mentorship of Ada Lawrence and a deeply held conviction that, as she said, “you can do whatever you set your mind to.” One of a number of graduates of COPE (Career Opportunities Program in Erie), a collaboration of Gannon College and the Erie School District to train minority teacher’s aides as certified teachers, Ms. Davis championed the teaching of African American history in the schools—one of the demands of the students in the wake of the 1968 riots. In the 1970s, Davis spearheaded the local commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, more than a decade before it became a national holiday—an effort that earned her hate mail. Having grown up in the Jim Crow South where African American children often had to endure leftover books with pages missing, Davis committed herself to a life of strengthening the educational opportunities available to all students. Davis involved herself in a number of local educational and civic organizations such as the NAACP, where she helped lead the fight against redlining and other discriminatory practices in housing and other areas of public accommodation. A community leader who rubbed shoulders with Dr. King, Harold Washington, Rev. Jesse Jackson and others, Davis’s legacy will long outlive her.

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