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Photojournalist Griffith J. Davis Honored With Lifetime Achievement Award

Man standing in front of photo of himself
Griffith J. Davis, who passed away in 1993, was honored Oct. 1 by a Tampa Bay nonprofit arts organization for his work as a photojournalist and diplomat.

The Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and Arts honored Davis for his work as a photojournalist and diplomat.

A pioneering photojournalist who captured images of the civil rights movement as well as the independence movement of Africa was recently honored by the Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and Arts.

The nonprofit organization honored Griffith J. Davis with its Lifetime Achievement Impact Award at its 31st Annual Impact Awards Program. The event was held virtually on Oct. 1.

TBBCA officials said Davis, who died in 1993, was honored for fighting for independence by documenting changing times.

“Here's this legacy of one person who just had this remarkable life, just so many contributions that he made in the private sector as both a photographer and journalist in telling the stories of the civil rights movement, and then as a senior Foreign Service diplomat around the world, telling those stories of African independence, where many countries were struggling and fighting for independence at that time,” said Susana Weymouth, executive director of TBBCA.

Davis’ daughter, Dorothy M. Davis, is president of the Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Archives, which is located in St. Petersburg and New York City.

“This award is very special to us, because of the fact that my dad is being recognized in all his different capacities, not just one,” said Dorothy Davis. “Part of what we want to promote is the fact that he had essentially three careers and we want to use that as a way to encourage other people to do the same in their own lives.”

After serving in World War II, Griffith Davis became the first African American Columbia School of Journalism masters graduate in 1949. He later became the first African American roving editor for Ebony.

Davis also documented in writing, photographs, and film the life and activities of many African governments. He worked in Liberia as a foreign service officer, where his daughter says he used his photojournalism skills as a communication tool across both borders and opposing mindsets.

“He would bring this story... the local story, wherever (he) was, and bring it to a new audience, and help them interpret what was going on from the standpoint of the people in that local setting,” said Dorothy Davis. ”He liked to connect people in case that connection may help them somehow and whatever they were trying to do.”

Weymouth said that there are lessons from Davis’ life and work that can be applied to today.

“Have we moved forward any? I mean, there's still the struggle. And it is still partly a civil rights struggle. It's definitely an equal rights struggle,” she said.

The Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Archives holds over 55,000 of his photographs and written documents, including his correspondence with historic Black leaders and friends, like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and poet Langston Hughes.

Dorothy Davis, who serves on the Board of Director of the TBBCA, says it’s important that she continue to honor her father by keeping his work and accomplishments alive.

“He (was) busy giving everybody else’s story, but he’s not giving his own story,” said Dorothy Davis. “So I’m adding on to it.”

To see a video the Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and Arts produced to honor Griffith Davis, click here.

Courtney Holland is the WUSF radio news intern for the fall of 2020.
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