Local NAACP leader dies, friends remember legacy of equality


Local activist Ralph Davis died Sunday night after more than 10 years of serving as the leader for the Johnson City National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter. He was 67.

Davis held many roles in the community, notably for his work with the local NAACP and the Umoja festival. Adam Dickson, a local NAACP member and Jonesborough alderman, remembered a man who was focused on serving his community.

“Very much involved in the community, very much involved in promoting equality and just the betterment of humanity . . . that was the man we knew and respected,” Dickson said.

Davis served as the president of the Johnson City/Washington County branch of the NAACP from 2001 to 2008, then again from 2012 until his death on Sunday. Dickson said Davis was also the president of the Umoja organization, the group presiding over the annual Umoja festival, and he served on the Tennessee Human Rights Commission.

But his influence doesn’t stop there – Dickson notes that Davis helped to grow the Washington County/Johnson City NAACP branch to be one of the most respected in the state, even earning Johnson City the title of 8th best place for African Americans to retire in Black Enterprise magazine.

One of Davis’ latest achievements was the push to designate a portion of State of Franklin Road as Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Highway last year.

READ MORE: State of Franklin signage marks MLK Jr. official designation

“I think that the Martin Luther King Jr. street renaming was a capstone of achievements for Ralph,” Dickson reflected. “Ralph had the ability of bringing people to the table. He commanded respect every time he walked in the room.”

READ MORE: Johnson City Commission to designate part of State of Franklin Rd. after Martin Luther King Jr.

Davis’ work also led to the growth of the Umoja festival from a picnic in 1978 to a full-blown festival attended by thousands in Johnson City every year.

“When you talk about a good man, good character, you’re talking about Ralph Davis,” Dickson said. “Ralph was a community servant, Ralph was an outstanding leader, Ralph was socially conscious, Ralph wanted to make this community better and was just really focused on Johnson City, Washington County and wanting to see this community flourish.”

Arrangements for Davis have not yet been announced.

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