Pam Davis Oral History Interview


Dublin Core


Pam Davis Oral History Interview


Oral History Interview
Farmer, James 1920-1999
Davis, Pam
History and American Studies Department
University of Mary Washington
Mary Washington College


In this oral history interview Pamela Davis speaks about her time in Dr. Farmer's Civil Rights class and Dr. Farmer's educational legacy at the University.


Hist 428 Spring 2020


To see this video on Youtube please click here.


HIST 428: Farmer Group




Davis, Pamela
Eastridge, Kimberly
Mahoney, Eilise


Youtube Video




Moving Image

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Eastridge, Kimberly


Davis, Pam




Text: This oral history interview was created as part of a project on Dr. James Farmer’s educational legacy at the University of Mary Washington. This project was completed for the University of Mary Washington’s Adventures in Digital History class taught by Dr. Jeffrey McClurken. We would like to thank Ms. Davis for agreeing to participate in this interview.
Text: Thank you for agreeing to participate in this interview, Dr. McClurken. Could you please state your name for the record?
Ms. Davis: My name is Pamela Smith Davis
Text: What year did you graduate?
Ms. Davis: ’91.
Text: What was your major?
Ms. Davis: I was a business administration major with a concentration in finance, but, uh, I ended up not staying in that field very, very long and went into grad school and went into teaching.
Text: How did you know Dr. Farmer?
Ms. Davis: So, I, uh, took his Civil Rights class my Junior year, and um it-I always loved history, took a lot of history courses at Mary Washington. Actually, if I go back and look at my transcripts I could have majored-I mean minor in American Studies very easily.
Kim Eastridge: Wow. Yeah.
Ms. Davis: That was what allowed me, when I went to my master’s program, to, um, certify to teach Social Studies, actually was from all the history and geography and poli sci that I had taken at Mary Washington. All those gen. ed. Courses paid off.
Text: What do you remember from his class?
Ms. Davis: So, the biggest thing I remember from his class was, um, his stories. His stories were just so vivid. Um, he was such a, um, such a great storyteller. Um, he added a lot of detail, um his memory was amazing. Um, I remember, um, him telling us a story about Freedom Summer when he, um, and some of his colleagues and C.O.R.E. were actually, um, in Mississippi when um Cheney, and, um, the two other, um young people were helping with voter registration were killed. And he was somewhere in Mississippi, and, um he was hiding out min a funeral home and actually escaped from that town in the back of a hearse. That-That was one of the stories that really stuck with me, just, you know, his experiences, um, were just, um, almost unbelievable, but certainly he was a piece of living history. So, it was just an honor, it was very humbling, um, sitting in his class and just listening, um, to his stories that he told. Of course, we read his book Lay Bare the Heart, um, as part of the course. And at that time, um, I believe it was Ken Burns who was putting together, um Eyes on the Prize, that PBS series so he, uh, we got to see some of that series before it ever came out on TV. Uh, it was, um, it was such a blessing to be able to take that class from someone who was actually there and lived it.
Text: What was the style of his lecture? Was it a large class?
Ms. Davis: I-you know, I remember it being probably about 30—it was probably one of the larger classes. Of course, not like Eastern and Western Anglo Geography which was in the-I guess there used to be an auditorium in the basement of Monroe, um, I’m assuming it’s still there. Besides that class being the largest class, everyone wanted to get into Dr. Farmer’s Civil Rights class. Everybody did. And I just got lucky my junior year because back then you signed up-you registered for classes based on how many credits you had, so the more credits you had the earlier you were able to sign up for classes.
Kimberly Eastridge: Right.
Ms. Davis: I had more credit hours than the rest of my-a lot of people in my class because I took summer classes, and so I finished a semester early. So, I was able to uh register for his class my junior year. I think there may have been like twenty/thirty of us in that, but I can’t recall how many sections of the class he offered. But it was, it was one of the larger classes, but it wasn’t too large. None of the classes at Mary Washington were very large, which is a great selling point for the university.
Text: How do you think Dr. Farmer is being represented on campus?
Ms. Davis: Well, I-I saw the bust of him across from-I think it’s across from Trinkle, or what is now being renamed. Which, by the way, I think should be named Farmer Hall, but that’s just my opinion. That’s what I voted for on the survey! Um, yeah, um, so I’ve seen that there, um, I do know that and I wish able to have seen the bus, the commemorative bus for the Freedom Rides that went around to several of the school divisions and there on campus. I was not able to see that, um, I would’ve loved to have seen that. Um, but you know, I think one of the highest honors that the college, the university, can give him is naming Trinkle after him.
Text: Do you have a favorite memory of him?
Ms. Davis: You know, I-I- he was older, of course, um, when I was there. Um, he was just about partially blind, so he did have an aide who would walk him in and guide him into the classroom, and he sat, um, he sat behind his desk. Um, he could see, he could see us if we were in, um, you know a certain area of the room. He did wear a patch- he did have the patch on his eye at that time. Um, and, um, he-he- the biggest piece I remember about him was him being such a phenomenal storyteller. Um, I had never heard of C.O.R.E. before I had gotten to his class. I mean, I knew about Rosa Parks, I knew the Montgomery Bus Boycott, I knew, you know, about those things, but never knew any other organization other than the SCLC and Martin Luther King. And he really-I-you know, opened my mind, and my-you know, and my knowledge base on just how deep the Civil Rights Movement was beyond Dr. Martin Luther King, and that it didn’t really start with Dr. Martin Luther King. It had started, you know, a decade prior to that.
Kimberly Eastridge: Right.
Ms. Davis: Right after World War II. So, and-and- it was, you know, it was just- and that’s one thing I remember about him most was, um, just his storytelling. He didn’t do much in the way of walking around the class when he taught. Um, he did teach from his chair. Uh, he did-he did sneak in some of those clips of what we now know as Eyes on the Prize, because he’s in them. Um, I-you know, we had to write a paper, um, for his class and the paper had to be about a time where we had experienced discrimination. And, uh, I wrote about an incident that happened at my high school when I was a freshman where, um, we came to school Monday morning with racist epitaphs written all over our parking lot, there had been a cross burned out on our pitcher’s mound on the baseball field in front of our school, and um wrote about just how frightened I was as a young girl and never really understood, you know, why that-why someone would be that way. I was a member of a pretty diverse school; Charlottesville High School is pretty diverse for this area. Um, and so I remember researching that and writing about that. So, um, I still have that paper.
Kimberly Eastridge: Wow.
Ms. Davis: I saved a few things from my time at Mary Washington and that’s one of them. Um, but, um, it definitely- and as a history teacher, U taught history for about fifteen years, and um those are the lessons and stories that aren’t found in the history books. And so I would bring that into the classroom, um, myself, um, just to, you know to honor him and to honor the work of others that aren’t mentioned so much in the history books. And so, I think that’s really what he made me appreciate, is that there is more to the story than what we read in books. And um, that is a lesson that I’ve kind of, you know, held onto all this time.
Text: Would you say that he was a harsh grader, easy grader, or in between?
Ms. Davis: I would say he was somewhere in between. Um, we had-I, you know-I-I assume we had quizzes or whatever, they never stood out in my brain. The paper did. He always talked about the paper. He always said, you know, “how’s it going? You should be doing this by now. You should be doing that by now.” So, you know, he wasn’t a professor that kept the goal, or the target, from you. He always kind of gave you the timeline of what he expected, um, by when. It wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t just something you turned in at the end of the time. It was a process, and, um, you know, I think got an A on that paper. I’m pretty sure I did.
Text: You said that he inspired the content you were teaching, did he also inspire the methods that you taught in?
Ms. Davis: You know, again, the biggest lesson that he taught me was that there’s more to the story than what you read in the history books. And, um, the really inquire, you know, have kids dig-dig deeper than what they’re learning, or are getting from one or two sources. Um, that there are other players, um, that are nine out of ten times behind the scenes of everything else that they’re reading about and they are just as important as those big-name people who show up in history books.
Kimberly Eastridge: Right.
Text: Thank you again, Dr. McClurken, for helping us get to know Dr. Farmer even better!
Text: Interviewee: Pam Davis; Interviewer: Kim Eastridge; Editor: Eilise Mahoney; Team Members: John Forest, Katia Savelyeva, Megan Williams; Advising Professor: Dr. Jeffrey McClurken
Text: For more information on this project please go to

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Zoom Video





Hist 428 Spring 2020, “Pam Davis Oral History Interview,” James Farmer at Mary Washington, accessed May 20, 2024,

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