THE EDWARD "ED" DAVIS STORY
(THE FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN TO HEAD DETROIT'S AILING BUS SYSTEM)
ED DAVIS, THE AUTOMOTIVE SALES YEARS:
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana on February 27, 1911, Edward Davis was the oldest of ten children.  Although his
mother passed when he was ten, his father — who was a food jobber — owned his own business, which enabled
him to earn enough money to feed, house and clothe his family comfortably.  His father also owned a 500-acre farm
located about sixty miles from town.  As a youngster, Davis became fascinated with the inner workings of his father's
Model-T Ford, which helped to spark his interest in and love for cars.

At the age of fifteen, Davis convinced his father to allow him to move to Detroit, to live with an aunt, where he could get
a better education than what was offered in the poor black schools in Shreveport.  In Detroit schools he could also
combine his love of cars with a solid business training.  He would attend the prestigious Cass Technical High School,
where he initially considered a career in accounting.

However, Davis became discouraged after discovering that the accounting field offered little opportunities for blacks,
and instead turned his focus toward his first love; the automobile.  To learn more about the automobile business he
took a part-time job in a car-repair garage during his last year at Cass, working for no pay beyond his 12¢ round-trip
streetcar fare.  After several weeks he was paid more than transportation money, and eventually worked his way up to
$12.00 per week. However, the Depression of the 1930s would result in the loss of his job.

In 1934, Davis was able to start his own business by renting a car wash business in a gas station.  This was after
convincing the owner to allow him to offer this service in his station.  Davis' big break would come after one of his car
wash customers, a Mr. Lampkins, offered him a job in the foundry at the Dodge Brothers main assembly plant in
Hamtramck, an enclave of Detroit.

After having worked there a few weeks, Lampkins — a superintendent at the plant — arranged for Davis to be shifted
from the foundry to a better job in the machine shop.  After having recognized Davis' great love for cars, along with his
winning manner, Mr. Lampkins would later offer him a job as a new car salesman — on a part-time basis — at the
new auto dealership he had just arranged for his son.  In 1936, Ed Davis began his first car salesman job at the
Merton L. Lampkins Chrysler-Plymouth dealership, located at 16330 Woodward Avenue, in a "high income area" of
Highland Park, another Detroit enclave.

Unfortunately, discrimination was an everyday factor of life back in those days, and being black, Davis found himself
shunned by his white coworkers.  He was not allowed to work on the main showroom floor with the white salesmen,
but was required to work out of a secluded makeshift office in the dealership's second floor stockroom.  However,
Davis was able to use this discrimination to his advantage.  He redesigned the storeroom into a "private office" where
he brought in his own desk and office furnishings.  Since he had to solicit customers on his own, he didn't have to
spend time with those who only visited the dealership to browse around.  Instead, he was forced to get out into the
black community on his own to sell cars.

But despite the odds, Davis was able to establish a growing clientele of loyal customers, and eventually went on to
sell more cars than any of the dealership's white salesmen.  Many from the city's black community heard about "the
black man who sold Chryslers."  Davis became so successful at his job he was eventually promoted to full-time
salesman, but turned down an offer to give up his office and work on the floor with the others.  Meanwhile, hostility
toward him from among the sales-staff grew, even to the point of a physical confrontation with a coworker.

DAVIS MOTOR SALES:
In 1938, Ed Davis decided he was ready to open his own auto dealership.  On December 4, 1939, Davis Motor Sales
— a used-car lot — opened for business out of a former plumbing supply building located at 421 East Vernor
Highway, which today would be located on the Fisher
(I-75) Freeway at Brush Street.  His dealership was located in
the city's predominately African-American "Paradise Valley" community, a few blocks north of Detroit's downtown
business and shopping district.  Although the used-car lot sold all makes of cars, and business was good, Davis'
main desire was to sell new cars.  However, he did continue on as a new car broker for black customers, and even
without a new-car dealership of his own, he was still able to sell a large volume of new cars.  He would later open a
Standard Oil gasoline station next door to his dealership.

Meanwhile, it was during this same period that the South Bend, Indiana based Studebaker Corporation had been
struggling to sell cars in Detroit.  After hearing word about the successful Ed Davis, the company brass decided that
Davis might be the way to reach the city's black population, which could offer tremendous potential for sales.  In 1940,
the company offered Davis a Studebaker franchise.

Davis decided to accept the offer.  Although no bank would grant him a loan, he risked his entire savings, and was
able to obtain the $10,000 needed to open the franchise.  Davis would remodel his building, and would soon be in
business selling new Studebakers.  With the opening of his Studebaker dealership in July of 1940, Ed Davis would
become the third African-American to be awarded a new-car franchise in the United States.  He would later be elected
president of the Studebaker Dealers Association of Detroit.

Interestingly, when Davis opened his Studebaker dealership in 1940, only two blacks in Detroit owned a Studebaker
automobile.  So initially, sixty percent of his business came from white customers.  But this would drastically change
after the violent Detroit race riots erupted during the summer of 1943.  From that point onward, Davis Motor Sales
would depend almost entirely upon its black customers, as service traffic from white customers dropped off after the
riots.  However, after gasoline rationing and new car restrictions were lifted after WW-II, the demand for new cars
skyrocketed.  Studebaker's share of the Detroit market more than doubled and business for Davis was good.  He even
had to expand his facilities.

However, by 1953, stiff competition and price cutting from among the "Big Three" would result in major market sales
loses and profit declines for Studebaker — with the automaker facing possible bankruptcy.  On October 1, 1954, the
Studebaker Corp. was acquired by the Detroit based Packard Motor Car Co.  The newly merged company would
become known as the Studebaker-Packard Corporation.

But unfortunately, Studebaker's auto sales plummeted after its 1955 models were introduced.  After assurances were
made to Ed Davis by representatives from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler of acquiring a possible new-car
dealership with one of the Big Three, he decided to drop his Studebaker franchise in April, 1956.  In June of 1956, a
Plymouth-DeSoto franchise promise fell apart after other Detroit dealers feared they would lose all of their black
business if Davis was granted a dealership.

THE INTERVENING YEARS:
After promised franchise offers never materialized, Davis has to settle for being a sub-dealer for a local Ford dealer,
on the promise of an opportunity of a Ford franchise whenever the territory around him became available.  Davis then
became associated with Floyd Rice Ford — one of Ford's largest Detroit dealers — and was made a vice-president in
the firm.  He could sell cars as a sub-dealer through their downtown dealership, located at 100 West Vernor, just five
blocks west from Davis Auto Sales.

However, after Floyd Rice later closed its downtown location in early 1958, Davis was never offered a Ford franchise.
He attempted to continue on at the Floyd Rice main dealership on Livernois Avenue at Doris — along Detroit's
"Automobile Row."  But racial prejudice and anger from the sales staff at that location made things unbearable, and in
order to keep the peace, his arrangement with the Floyd Rice agency was ended.  The major portion of Ed Davis'
business would once again return to primarily selling used cars.

But this time his auto business would suffer another financial blow, after it was announced that his property was in the
path of a proposed new Detroit expressway.  By 1959, most of the area surrounding his business had now been
condemned and slated for urban renewal development.  The entire area was deteriorating, both physically and
economically.  Eventually, construction on the Fisher
(I-75) Expressway in Detroit — which tore through E. Vernor
street and much of that lower east-side black community — would force him to close his business.  In 1962, the
federal government would pay him only $75,000 for his property.

THE ED DAVIS "BIG THREE" DEALERSHIP OPENS:
Finally, on November 11, 1963, Ed Davis was able to secure a new-car franchise with Chrysler-Plymouth — making
him the first African-American to be awarded a "Big Three" auto franchise.  His
Ed Davis, Inc., Plymouth-Chrysler-
Imperial Dealership
(Dealer Number 62399) was located in a predominately black middle-class neighborhood, at
11825 Dexter Avenue at Elmhurst, on the city's west-side.

The Davis dealership prospered immediately and had to be enlarged within its first few years.  It grew to become one
of Chrysler Corporation's most aggressive dealerships, selling an average of 1,000 new cars and twice that figure in
used cars a year.

But by the time of the 1967 Detroit riots, the neighborhood surrounding his dealership had changed from middle class
to one of the toughest on the city's west side.  Davis soon found theft from his lot an impossible problem, as was also
the inability to obtain insurance.  Requests by Davis in 1968 to relocate his business to the city's northwest section —
where the black middle-class was headed — were denied after Chrysler was unwilling to undertake such a project.
After his employees and salesmen unionized in 1969, and the ongoing union labor problems that followed, Ed Davis
decided to close his dealership after thirty-plus years in the automobile business.  Later, Davis was quoted as saying,
"Finally, it reached the point where it wasn't worth it anymore."  On February 26, 1971, Ed Davis retired, and closed the
doors to his auto dealership business.


ED DAVIS, THE D.S.R. YEARS:
On October 1, 1971, Detroit Mayor Roman S. Gribbs appointed Ed Davis as new general manager of the Department
of Street Railways
(DSR), replacing Ernest W. Knox who was retiring.  At the time, Gribbs had been looking for a
prominent black to join his administration.  It was hoped that Davis might discover some innovative ways to improve
service at the problem-plagued, money-losing transit agency.  Davis later stated that he took the job as a challenge,
and wanted to improve the system.

When Davis took over in October of 1971, the DSR operated 1,100 buses, employed 2,380 people, and generated
more than $200,000 from the fare box a day, or some $150 million a year.  But despite those numbers, the
department had lost money every year since 1966, at the rate of more than $9 million a year, and that despite two fare
increases.

Not long after arriving at the DSR, Davis concluded that
"...the DSR had become a sloppily managed organization,"
and it didn't take long to discover the
"deplorable morale of the operation."  He was appalled at the lackadaisical
attitude of some DSR people, and their lack of enthusiasm for their jobs.  The morale problem became even more
evident in the attitude of the coach operators.

In his 1979 autobiography, titled
"One Man's Way," Davis wrote of an experience he had while visiting one of the DSR
terminals and talking with some of the drivers...
""I asked if they had taken a bus to work that day; they said none of them had. "The service is so bad," they
explained, "we wouldn't ride the bus."
"Thank you, gentlemen," I said, smiled, and turned around. A Detroit Free Press reporter was standing behind
me, and turning to him, I remarked, "If someone had said something so negative to me about my auto dealership,
that man wouldn't have lasted long as an employee." That's all I said, and I just walked away."

Although Ed Davis inherited the problems facing the financially troubled and debt ridden bus system when he took
over at the helm, Davis was still determined that he could "sell" the public on DSR service, just as he had sold them
Chryslers and Plymouths.

During his 2½ year reign as general manager, Davis led the department through its waning years — during both good
times and bad.  During the troublesome months of FY 1972-73 — when the DSR faced near bankruptcy, but also
during the more celebratory times — such as when the DSR celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 1972.

DAVIS BRINGS CHANGES TO THE D.S.R.:
During his early months as general manager, it wasn't unusual to find Ed Davis riding the buses and visiting
terminals to
"find out what's wrong."  Davis demanded his department heads also "get out of their offices and ride the
buses, ...and...take notes."
 He added downtown express service on lines such as Crosstown and Clairmount, so that
passengers wouldn't have to get off and transfer to get to their downtown jobs.

One innovative idea of Davis included a promotional
"Ride the Bus Month" to attract more riders, which included a fare
reduction from 40¢ to 25¢ between 9 a.m.and 3 p.m. from May 15 to 19 and May 22 to 24, to coincide with the DSR's
50th Anniversary on May 15, 1972.  The idea being to change the public's mind about using public transit by giving the
DSR a chance.  It was also under Ed Davis when a new fleet of 134 GMC air-conditioned coaches arrived introducing
the new DSR slogan,
"Come Ride With Us!" displayed across the bus in large letters.

It was also Davis at the helm in 1972, when the new $15-million DSR Administration Office complex opened at 1301
E. Warren on the city's near east side.  He was also in charge during the spring of 1973, when the first female bus
drivers since WW-II were hired by the DSR.  At the time Davis was quoted as saying,
"This is the beginning of a new
DSR policy to search actively for qualified women drivers."
 Davis was also instrumental in promoting the first blacks
as department heads in the DSR after noticing an absence of African-Americans in upper management positions.

Also on Davis' agenda were plans to make adjustments on a number of DSR routes.  His plans were to cut down on
services in the depopulated areas of the center city, and expand services
"where the people have gone," particularly in
the northwest and northeast sections beyond Grand Boulevard.

Davis even envisioned exclusive bus lanes on the city's freeways, with a bus a minute sailing downtown past cars
stuck in traffic jams.  He wanted to shout out of the bus window to those drivers —
"Come and ride with us. You'll get
there a lot sooner!"

However, most of his ideas would have to take a back seat, as more pressing financial problems lay ahead for the
DSR.  With drastic cuts in service on the horizon, including the possible elimination of all Christmas and New Year's
Day service, and with the immanent possibility of bankruptcy being predicted for the department, most of his ideas
would never see the light of day.

DAVIS ANGERS D.S.R. UNION LEADERS:
Perhaps the most negative mark left on Davis' reign as general manager were comments he made in March of 1972
regarding employee work performance.  A letter which Davis addressed to the Board of DSR Commissioners — later
released to the press — made him a marked man by the various DSR unions.  In his letter Davis charged that the
DSR was afflicted with high absenteeism on Mondays and Fridays, stating that,
"...in many positions, in excess of 20
percent of employees habitually take Friday and Monday off."

Davis also stated that the payment of phony sick claims and the high overtime necessary to cover those absences;
along with
"accident-prone" drivers; and an accident claims racket, all constituted major expense items for the
department.  Accident claims against the DSR were averaging about $100,000 a month, while unnecessary overtime
was costing more than $10,000 per month. Davis considered both to be unacceptable.

Of course, these charges were vehemently denied by union officials during a special news conference, where
representatives from the drivers' union; the salaried workers' union; the mechanics' union; and other department
locals were in attendance.  Kerchel Schwartz, president of the bus drivers' union, said the
"statements made by Davis
about the drivers are lies,"
while the head of AFSCME Council 77, Lloyd Simpson, even threatened a work stoppage,
and demanded that Mayor Gribbs remove Davis from his position.

REMAINING D.S.R. YEARS AND BEYOND:
Although Davis was never released form his duties — which, no doubt, would have been an unwise political move for
the mayor at that time in the city's history — Davis, for the most part, would maintain a low media profile through the
remainder of his term.  He did, however, manage to see the department through its financial crisis, and was still in
charge during negotiations held in 1973 to sell the DSR to the Southeastern Michigan Transportation Authority
(SEMTA).  Davis would remain on as DSR general manager through the end of the Roman S. Gribbs administration.
He resigned shortly after Coleman A. Young was sworn in as mayor in January, 1974.  That following July, under a
newly revised city charter, the DSR would become the Detroit Department of Transportation
(D-DOT).

Over the next twenty years, Ed Davis would publish his memoirs and serve as a consultant to minority auto dealers
and other African-American business owners.  Although he would continue to receive honors during his remaining
years for his numerous accomplishments in the auto industry — including being the first African-American inducted
into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1996 — not much has been mentioned regarding his appointment as head of
Detroit's ailing public transit system.  A once proud system that had been on a decline many years prior to the arrival of
Ed Davis and would unfortunately continue on that decline for many decades to come.

Edward "Ed" Davis would pass away due to congestive heart failure on May 3, 1999, at the age of eighty-eight.


SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGMENT: I would like to personally thank DDOT Senior Service Inspector (SSI) Carl Dutch
for loaning me his copy of  the Ed Davis autobiography
"ONE MAN'S WAY" which was used to contribute information
for this article. I do apologize to him for keeping the book so long, but it was worth the time.

Information for the above article were compiled from numerous sources, including, the Ed Davis Autobiography "One Man's Way" (Ed
Davis Associates, 1979), the February 6, 1972 edition of the Detroit Free Press
"Detroit Magazine" article titled, "Ed Davis: The Idealist
in the Driver's Seat of the Creaky Old DSR,"
and also from miscellaneous 1972 to 1973 Detroit Free Press and Detroit News newspaper
articles (courtesy of the S. Sycko collection), and various online sources, including the online website
Answers.com: Ed Davis.

© 2007 – www.DetroitTransitHistory.info (TXV 10-01-14)

NOTE: MOST PHOTOS, IMAGES AND CHARTS HAVE BEEN REMOVED AND CAN BE VIEWED ON ORIGINAL WEBSITE PAGE
To visit original website version of this page see: www.detroittransithistory.info/AroundDetroit/EdDavis.html
.
PRINTER–FRIENDLY TEXT VERSION: MOST PHOTOS, IMAGES AND CHARTS HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM THIS PAGE
In the fall of 1971, Edward "ED" Davis would become the first African-American to be appointed as
general manager of Detroit's Department of Street Railways
(DSR).  But prior to being appointed head
transit chief he enjoyed a long and successful ground-breaking career in the automobile sales industry.
During his thirty year career in the automobile business, Davis would become the first African-
American to own a used-car dealership in the U.S., the third to be awarded a new-car franchise, and in
the fall of 1963 would become the first African-American to own a "Big Three" franchise — a Chrysler-
Plymouth-Imperial dealership located on Dexter at Elmhurst in Detroit.