Thursday, June 7, 2007

5 Spot: The Rev. France Davis

The Rev. France Davis, longtime pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, will speak about black history at the Savor Juneteenth celebration June 9-10 at Gallivan Plaza ( The statewide Juneteenth Celebration will be held June 11-17 at the Ogden City Amphitheater, located at 325 25th Street. Davis was interviewed for City Weekly’s June 7 Five Spot column. Here’s the complete conversation:

After almost a decade, Juneteenth again will be celebrated in Salt Lake City. Why is it coming back?
It is a significant day of celebrating freedom and the rights of a significant part of our community and population.

Will it negatively effect the Juneteenth celebration in Ogden June 15-17?
We think it will work in conjunction with that and that it will be kind of a kickoff for the larger more ongoing celebration in Ogden.

President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. But when did the institution of slavery really end?
The 19th of June, 1865, a year and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, ended physical slavery. Economic slavery started to be done away with in 1954 when the Brown vs. Board of Education decision was handed down. We are still struggling for political, educational and economic equity. There are some vestiges of slavery still occurring. It’s not yet completely done.

How could a country founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness countenance slavery?
As a country, we were talking not about people of African descent when we wrote documents and said things like “We the People.” We were not talking about all people, just certain people. People of African descent were among those who were not included. In order to ensure economic development in our country, we used the free labor of slavery.

Why should the entire community show up for Savor Juneteenth?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sums it up: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If all of us are not free, then none of us are. Thus the whole community ought to be celebrating the freedom of this segment of society.

Is Salt Lake City a good city for African Americans?
It’s becoming more and more of a better place. There have been legal and religious changes and, of course, the political ones that help this community to be more open and accepting of African Americans. There are good opportunities here for jobs and education, in particular, and I think it’s a good place to be.

Do you feel you sometimes have to defend Utah when you travel outside the state?
It’s a threefold thing for me personally: First is religious, second is skin color and third is the issue of whether the community is open or not. Yeah, all of that I have to constantly respond to when I travel outside of the area. And I still think there are good opportunities here in Utah. But I’ve learned to live anywhere.

What are some surprising bits of black history related to Utah?
The most surprising one is that there were African Americans here at least 20 years before the Mormon pioneers came. James Beckwourth was here as a trapper and frontiersman during the 1820s. As far as the LDS Church is concerned, during the 1850s, at least one African American held the priesthood. Third, the Buffalo Soldiers, who were African-American troops, were stationed here during the late 1800s.

Don Harwell of the Genesis group will be providing onsite DNA samples. What is the purpose of the testing?
I suppose what that has to do with is trying to trace one’s roots since Mr. Sorenson here has developed a technique using DNA to help track where in Africa African-Americans come from. It’s difficult to trace, genealogically speaking, lots of African American people because of the whole slavery numbering issue as opposed to names. So perhaps DNA testing can fill some of those gaps.

After the many gospel music performances at Juneteenth, where can people go to hear gospel music?
They would be welcome [at Calvary Baptist Church]. We have gospel choirs singing every Sunday at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. We have plenty of room and would invite anybody who wants to hear gospel music on a regular basis to join us. They would fit in and be at home.

What is your favorite gospel song?
“Precious Lord, Take My Hand” … lead me on, let me stand. It is a song about how to get out of and through the difficulties of life and not be in despair about where you are and where you are going.

(Jerre Wroble)

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