Written by Charreah Jackson – Black College Wire
Thursday, 30 October 2003
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Photo credit: Howard University

Ossie Davis

As students walked the halls of Howard University’s John H. Johnson School of Communications, many probably did a double take when they read, “Ossie Davis, Annenberg Professor of Communications” on one of the office doors.

The legendary actor, playwright, director, screenwriter, producer, author and political activist spent Oct. 20 and 21 sharing with students his knowledge and wisdom.

Davis is new to the title of Howard professor, but he is not new to speaking at events associated with the university. He is a regular attendee at Convocation, for example, and most important, he attended Howard for his undergraduate studies.

“I have always felt obligated to this university,” Davis said.

Davis’ lecture, open to all students, was called “What Happened to Me on This Campus.”

After more than 60 years, Davis still credits Howard with making the difference in his life. “Howard University played a major role into making the person I am today,” he said. I came here on a ‘poor folks’ scholarship and I did not have to pay a dime for tuition. Maybe now I can pay back what was given to me. I am interested in passing on to students what was passed to me those many years ago.”

As students rush to and from class or check on their financial aid, Davis asked that students remember key figures in the black community, figures such as James W. Butcher, who built a dollhouse and furniture enterprise; Mordecai Johnson, first African American president of Howard University; the scholar Alain Locke, and poet Sterling Brown, men who not only had a major impact on Davis, but on the entire university and world.

Davis said he was excited by the reaction from students.

“The response has been extraordinary but I expected that,” Davis said jubilantly. “I am prepared to use all the tricks I learned here at Howard in making myself welcomed and interacting with people, and so far the tricks have worked.” Davis, who will be 86 on Dec. 18, is still hard at work and even now working on a play.

“I never planned to retire and I am not planning to now,” Davis said. “As for relaxation, that can only come as part of the satisfaction of being alive and active in all aspects of the arts and entertainment.”

Davis is a direct link to the struggle many students only read about. In 1965, he gave the eulogy at the funeral of his good friend Malcolm X, for example.

“I want students to know Malcolm was and still is an important part of the black experience,” Davis said. “Giving the eulogy was my only way to keep from crying and it was part of my effort to be a part of the Harlem community in paying tribute to a fallen hero.”

Davis also spoke with students in the School of Communication’s Annenberg Honors program. He shared his experiences at Howard in the late 1930s and challenged students to never forget the less fortunate.

“While you are molding your minds, remember those who you left behind and did not make it to Howard,” he said. “Remember they are your brothers and sisters.”

Davis planned to be back in November, and his lectures will be open to all. He urged students to recognize that although the fight against Jim Crow is over, segregation and exclusion now have a different face. Students at Howard must gain the knowledge to fight that new face and be empowered, he said.

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