In 1966, Rev. Lawrence A. Davies became the first African American to hold elected office in Fredericksburg serving for 30 years, first as a Councilman and then as Mayor.
In those three decades, Davies revitalized the city by driving forward the creation of low-income housing and the establishment of an affordable bus system. He also advocated for increased access to mental health treatment and backed overall community wellness. But his story starts before his 1966 election to council and spans more than the simple sphere of government.
Coming To Fredericksburg
Davies, and his wife Janice, came to Fredericksburg in 1962 so he could become the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site). His path to the pulpit was a winding one. Born in Houston, Texas, Davies intended to study medicine and graduated from Prairie View A&M University in 1949 with a biology degree.
But his service in the Army inspired him to take up the ministry and after his discharge received a divinity degree from Howard University and a master’s degree in sacred theology from Wesley Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1956 and first served at Good Samaritan Church in Washington D.C.
Davies became involved almost immediately in Fredericksburg community affairs and sparked the creation of Citizens United for Action to combat racial discrimination in the city. Davies was the first African American elected to City Council, where he served from 1966 to 1976. In this role, he worked toward a vision of racial understanding and justice.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, the city mourned King’s death by holding a memorial service that began with a three-block march from Mount Zion Baptist Church to St. George’s Episcopal Church, where Davies, in his capacity as a counselor and pastor, read several of King’s writings to a crowd of about 500 people, according to an article in The Free Lance–Star.
In 1976, he continued his ceaseless rise and became the first Black mayor of Fredericksburg. He continued to win reelection for 20 years until retiring in 1996. And during his tenure, he turned the city around financially, worked toward group homes for the mentally challenged, established the FRED Transit bus system (the Lawrence A. Davies Transit Center was named in his honor), and championed the construction of Section 8 housing. Because of Davies, locals have support and increased access to services. But his activism and care for the community did not end with his public service.
Supporting the Community
Along with his wife Janice, he helped found the Fredericksburg Area Sickle Cell Association in 1972. His activism for sickle cell anemia patients is in daughter’s memory. Lauren Davies was diagnosed with the disease, which is widespread and misunderstood, when she was 7 months old. Doctors estimated she would only live until age 20, but she beat that estimate by 16 years and lived until 1993 and passed at the age of 36. She helped focus the need for treatment of and acceptance for those with sickle cell anemia, and the way she coped with adversity inspired others to continue education and community activism.
Lauren was a giant in the community in her own right, as a poet and an inspiration. She lives on, immortally, through her poetry. And her name adorns the Fredericksburg Wall of Honor, in city hall not far from her father’s portrait in the building.
Janice Pryde Davies, too, has been a quiet community leader for many years. Reverend Davies and Janice’s daughter, Karen was active in the community as a loving teacher, counselor and a member of several local programs. Karen Michelle Davies Ward passed away on April 23, 2020. The Davies and their daughter, Sharron continue to be the first family of Fredericksburg in many respects: leadership, activism, inspiration, care and support. They lead by example.
The Sickle Cell Chapters of Virginia elected the couple to their Hall of Fame in 1999.
His work hasn’t gone unnoticed by other organizations. Five years ago, the Germanna Community College’s Educational Foundation gave him the first Community Member of the Year award. In 2016, he was honored by Leadership Fredericksburg for his integrity and vision. And the Library of Virginia and Dominion Energy named the Rev. Lawrence A. Davies as one of seven Strong Men & Women in Virginia History in 2019.
Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw recently created a proclamation celebrating Davies, who she called “mayor for life” for his tireless dedication to the community.
While supporting the community as a government and charitable leader, Davies also continues to preach at Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site). He retired in 2012 after 50 years at the church, where he helped develop outreach that provided food for those in need and health clinics.
“You can either curse the darkness or light a candle,” he said in 2000. “I choose to do the latter.”
That candle burns on. Since arriving in the city in 1962, the Davies family has changed Fredericksburg for the better.