African-American educator William H. Davis was born in Columbus, Ohio, on November 27, 1848. As a young man of 15, he enlisted in the Union Army and served in a Light Guard company that helped protect President Abraham Lincoln.
After the Civil War, Davis settled in Malden—about 10 miles east of Charleston—and became a school teacher. Malden was an important center of African-American history and culture because of the large number of black laborers who worked in the saltworks there. His most famous pupil was a young Booker T. Washington, who would go on to become the nation’s most prominent black educator.
In 1870, Davis became principal of the black grade school in Charleston, a position he served in for 24 years. He was also an active member of the African Zion Church in Malden and the First Baptist Church in Charleston.
In the 1930s, Davis was a guest of honor at the Booker T. Washington anniversary celebration at Tuskegee University in Alabama, the famed college founded by Washington.
William H. Davis died at his home in Charleston in 1938 at age 89.