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Forgotten Mobile civil rights slayings brought back to light

(image: WPMI) Forgotten Mobile civil rights slayings brought back to light

A grainy old photograph of two men.

It's the only visual link Nichole Ulmer has of her mother's first cousin. She can't be sure, but she believes one of them is Rayfield Davis. Nichole never met him.... because Davis died well before she was born.

His death haunts her family to this day.

" I can only imagine the hurt his mother, his sister, you know, felt," she says. "He didn’t have a chance to have kids."

But Rayfield Davis didn't just die, he was beaten to death. His body wasdiscovered in this ditch along Tennessee St. in Mobile. And, according to records and news accounts of the day, Davis was killed because of the color of his skin.

70 years have come and gone since the killing of Rayfield Davis, and Tennessee Street has been covered up in leaves and debris - just a patch of pavement showing through every now and then.

Tennessee St is about to be uncovered. Why?

Because the killing of Rayfield Davis is about to be uncovered.

"When you have evidence, when you have a written confession, and when you have a death certificate that say beaten to death, murdered, ok, what more?" says Nichole.

Nichole never learned the details of her relative's death until Boston's Northeastern University asked her about it as part of its Civil Right and Restorative Justice Project.

That's when Nicole set out to learn more.

And what she learned was very disturbing.

On March 7, 1948, Davis, a janitor at Brookley Field, was riding the bus to his home on Tennessee St.

And that's when he struck up a conversation with 23-year-old Horace Miller, a white mechanic who also worked at Brookley. According to Miller's own confession, Davis invited Miller to go for drinks.

"But Horace said, 'No!'", says Nichole. "You're a black man.' I'm putting it in a good way, you know?"

According to newspaper accounts and Miller's own confession, Davis told Miller that one day soon there would be equality between the two races.

"And, you know," she says, "Horace didn't like what Rayfield was saying, so as they approached this stop to get off, Horace followed him off the bus."

A short time later, someone frog hunting in this ditch found Davis, badly beaten and barely alive. He would die before police could get there. Miller was arrested, charged with murder and even confessed to the crime, blaming it on rage because of Davis' talk of equality.

Miller's explanation was enough for the grand jury of the day. He was never indicted and went free.

Nichole never met Rayfield Davis, but his untimely death is very real to her as she stares down into the littered and weed lined ditch.

"Our lives," she says, "our blood, runs through this now because of Horace Miller."

On August 18th, Tennessee St will be officially dedicated to Rayfield Davis. Nicole says Miller, who would be in his 90's, may still be alive. And if he is, she wants him to know... she forgives him.

"But my thing is," she says, thoughtfully. "I would love to know, has your heart change from the way you felt back then? What would you do differently?"

On August18th, the same day Tennessee Street will be rededicated to Rayfield Davis, Davis will also be remembered during the opening of a new exhibit at the History Museum of Mobile.

The exhibit will honor Davis and 5 other Mobile men who died in the 1940's in race related killings.

If you'd like more information about Northeastern University's Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, visit them on line at www.crrj.northeastern.edu

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