William Mackenzie Davidson
|William Mackenzie Davidson|
Mayor of St. Joseph, Louisiana
1901 – January 18, 1930
|Preceded by||Founding mayor at incorporation|
|Succeeded by||A. Bonds Ratcliff|
|Born|| December 1857|
New York City, USA
|Died|| January 18, 1930 (aged 72)|
St. Joseph, Tensas Parish, Louisiana
|Resting place||Natchez City Cemetery in Natchez, Mississippi|
|Spouse(s)||Carrie Moore Davidson|
|Children|| Joseph Moore Davidson (1894-1918)|
Alice Moore Davidson Baxter
|Alma mater||Jefferson Military Academy|
|Occupation||Cotton planter; Banker; Government official|
William Mackenzie Davidson (December 1857 – January 18, 1930) was a cotton planter, politician, and civic figure in St. Joseph in Tensas Parish, Louisiana, one of the Mississippi River delta parishes with majority African American populations, rich in farming, and susceptible to periodic flooding.
Davidson was born to Scottish immigrants in New York City. As a child, he was brought to Natchez, Mississippi, where he later attended nearby Jefferson Military Academy. He then relocated to Waterproof in southern Tensas Parish. Despite Davidson's northern birth, his father had fought for the Confederacy in the American Civil War. In 1878, Davidson himself was among the approximately one hundred white posse members who joined parish judge and later state Senator Charles C. Cordill in crushing by force a revolt of African American resistance to the segregated order, imposed despite the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. From this incident, Davidson was arrested and carried to New Orleans to stand trial on fraud charges, but the case was suspended.
In 1880, at the age of twenty-four, Davidson moved the short distance north to St. Joseph and became a merchant and planter. He married Carrie Moore (1866-1957), daughter of Joseph Moore, one of the wealthiest men in Tensas Parish. He moved with comfort and ease into the circle of the Tensas elite.
Political and civic affairs
Davidson was a founder and the general manager of the powerful Panola Company, an agricultural entity based in St. Joseph which controlled at one point eleven thousand acres of valuable farmland. James Howard Netterville (1879-1943) supervised three of its most valuable holdings, the Balmoral, Blackwater, and Wyoming plantations. He sat on the board of the Bank of St. Joseph, the most stable financial institution in Tensas Parish. He worked to bring the USDA Agricultural Experiment Station to St. Joseph and lobbied for construction of the Mississippi River bridge at Natchez, which linked the lower delta country to one of it major trade cities.
As the office of mayor in such small communities was and remains part-time, Davidson was also the Tensas Parish treasurer for some three decades. He was heavily involved in partisan activities of both the parish and the state committees of the Democratic Party. He was a conservative Democrat, whose political views were shaped by the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction. He had managed to put the grief of Confederate defeat, known in history and literature as the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, behind him, particularly with the arrival of the promise of the 20th century.
Death of Lt. Joseph Moore Davidson
The community and parish had grown accustomed to Davidson's leadership. Then tragedy struck. His son, Joseph Moore "Jody" Davidson (1894-1918), was killed in action in France shortly before the armistice ending World War I, then known as The Great War.
Lieutenant Davidson was a graduate of Culver Military Academy in Indiana, the University of Michigan, and the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., where he also was a staff member for U.S. Senator Joseph E. Ransdell (1858-1954) of Lake Providence, a foremost spokesman for delta interests. Citizens in 1926 named the high school in St. Joseph in Davidson's honor.
Decades later, after desegregation and reorganization, the former Joseph Moore Davidson High School is now known as Tensas High School, one of only three schools still operated by the parish school board, which manages a decreasing pupil population in the smallest parish in Louisiana. Most of the minority of whites in the parish attend the private Tensas Academy in St. Joseph. Nearly all African Americans of school age are enrolled in public schools, which have struggled financially and with weak pupil performance for many years.
In January 1930, some eleven years after his son's death, Davidson died from an accidental fall. He slipped on an icy patch of sidewalk outside his office, fell, and fractured his skull. He was carried into his Bank of St. Joseph, of which he was the president, and there he lapsed into unconsciousness and died a few minutes later. Davidson's sudden demise brought an outpouring of emotion from all races and classes, "on every face of every color of every age," as the editor of the Tensas Gazette described the tragedy.
The 1930 census, conducted three months after Davidson's death showed Tensas Parish with a population of 10,795 blacks (72 percent) and 4,301 whites (28 percent); by contrast in 1920, there were about the same number of African Americans, 10,314 (85 percent), but only 1,771 whites (15 percent) in the parish.
A. H. Jackson, then the principal of the all-black Tensas Parish Training School in St. Joseph, later known as the former Tensas Rosenwald High School, described Davidson as "always straightforward, full of advice and sympathy," and supportive of "movements which he felt were good for all the people irrespective of race or color." The Natchez Democrat described Davidson as a "man of sterling character, honest and upright in his dealings with his fellow man, possessing all of the attributes of a true Christian gentleman."
For the Tensas planter class, small in number but powerful in wealth and influence, Davidson's death signaled the quick passing of the old order. Davidson personally epitomized the Victorian ideals of the old planter aristocracy unaccustomed to much social, political, or economic change but in expectation of the periodic soaring of its profits based on agricultural market conditions.
- Frederick W. Williamson and George T. Goodman, eds. Eastern Louisiana: A History of the Watershed of the Ouachita River and the Florida Parishes, 3 vols. Monroe: Historical Record Association, 1939, pp. 982-983, 985-986
- James Matthew Reonas, Once Proud Princes: Planters and Plantation Culture in Louisiana's Northeast Delta, From the First World War Through the Great Depression. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Ph.D. dissertation, December 2006, pp. 24-25, 245-248, 274. Retrieved on July 20, 2013.
- Davidson obituary, Tensas Gazette, January 24, 1930.
- List of mayors of St. Joseph, Louisiana. usgwarchives.net. Retrieved on August 2, 2013.
- Edith Ziegler, Tensas Parish Archives. usgwarchives.net. Retrieved on January 6, 2011.
- "Account of the Death of Lt. Joseph Davidson", Tensas Gazette, December 13, 1918.
- Tensas Gazette, May 12, 2010
- Barbara Leader, "Proficiency slips in Tensas, Franklin Parish schools", July 13, 2013. The Monroe News-Star. Retrieved on July 14, 2013.
- Once Proud Princes, census charts, p. 274.
- "D" burial records. natchezbelle.org. Retrieved on July 21, 2013.
- Confirmed by Danny Brown, Natchez City Cemetery.