Reverend France Davis is a teacher, a preacher, and a family man who has influenced the lives of many; and this month he is celebrating a big anniversary at the Calvary Baptist Church.
In this week's "Person 2 Person," Reverend Davis talks to Shauna Lake about his journey from Georgia during the Civil Rights Movement all the way to Salt Lake City today.
Below is a transcript of Shauna Lake's interview with Reverend France A. Davis:
SHAUNA LAKE: Tell me a little bit about what led you to a life on ministry.
REV. DAVIS: My earliest life started with my father and mother taking us to church on an every Sunday basis, reading to us the bible when we came home from church, and so we were basically just sort of put into an environment that was totally church oriented. Then as I got 12 or 13 years old I decided that was something that I wanted to do and decided to pursue it. And then later on when I was 18 years old, I really decided to pursue the ministry, the preaching and pastoring and decided to do that because I felt it was the best choice for making a difference in the community where I lived.
SHAUNA LAKE: And that was a big deal.
REV. DAVIS: Well in fact there were only three real options that African-Americans had in those days about professions either to be a teacher, a musician, or a preacher. And so to be one of those three was to be at the top of your game.
SHAUNA LAKE: And I understand that you were close with Dr. Martin Luther King...
REV. DAVIS: I met Dr. King, interviewed Dr. King, marched with him on the march from Selma to Montgomery, and was there when he delivered his most important and memorable speech, "I Have a Dream."
SHAUNA LAKE: Was that kind of an "aha" moment for you of what you wanted to do with your future?
REV. DAVIS: Well it confirmed what I had already decided what I was going to do. It confirmed it now by being part of that movement, and so it allowed me to decide which of the two methods I was going to use. Was I going to go the Malcolm X way and do it by any means necessary, or was I going to do the Dr. Martin Luther King, non-violence civil disobedience? And it confirmed that was the way for me to go.
SHAUNA LAKE: And what brought you to Utah? I mean how do you go from that to Salt Lake City?
REV. DAVIS: Interestingly I got kicked out of college because I was spending most of my time with Dr. King marching. And so instead of continuing college, I got kicked out and ended up in the military for four years during the Vietnam conflict and was discharged in Idaho. I went back to college in California, U-C Berkeley and other places and then was invited by the University of Utah's communication department to come and teach news writing, what you do, radio and television announcing at the University of Utah, and I've taught at the university for the last 42 years.
SHAUNA LAKE: What was it like when you came here? It's not very...
REV. DAVIS: This was another world. I talk about it as 10 or 20 years behind the time. That we still hadn't made the changes in this community that had happened in Alabama, happened in Georgia, happened in Berkeley, happened in Boston, Massachusetts and there was no real interest it appeared to me in making those kinds of changes. So it was like going back in time.
SHAUNA LAKE: Did you hate it? Were you angry at being here?
REV. DAVIS: I saw it as an opportunity. I didn't hate it but I saw it as an opportunity, an opportunity with lots of challenges, lots of work to be done, and not a whole lot of people interested in getting that particular work done. So that was a real challenge I saw, and that was one of the reasons that my wife and I decided to stay.
SHAUNA LAKE: What do you think about Utah now?
REV. DAVIS: Well I think it's changed significantly. We've come a long, long ways. We've gotten the laws on the books. We still have attitudes though that need to be worked on.
SHAUNA LAKE: How could we as a community and as a state change some of those attitudes in your opinion?
REV. DAVIS: Well it takes time first of all to change attitudes. The Bible says it takes 40 years to change an attitude and so I've been here 40 years and so now I'm looking for the change tomorrow. Well not really tomorrow but sometime soon. So we have to educate, that's one of the major ways of changing attitudes. The second is to get to know people who are different than us and interact with them and find out that their lives are very similar to our lives and that much of what goes on is the same in everybody's life, and I think that those will be the two most critical parts.
SHAUNA LAKE: And you have a big anniversary coming up.
REV. DAVIS: Big anniversary coming up. It's a grand celebration.
SHAUNA LAKE: I mean what does that feel like?
REV. DAVIS: Forty years of being anywhere at any task at any job is a long time. So I've been here 40 years as pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church. So there are two parts to this celebration. One, I'm going to be retiring from teaching at the University of Utah after 42 years, and I'll be celebrating 40 years as pastor of the church. It's a highlight in life. Its number three I suppose in terms of the greatest things that's ever happened.
SHAUNA LAKE: Tell me about your family. Tell me about your wife.
REV. DAVIS: Oh I have a wife whose name is Willene. We call her affectionately Mr. Mom because she's the mater at handling children and dealing with children issues. If you ever have problems with yours let me know.
SHAUNA LAKE: I know I'm going to be giving her a call.
REV. DAVIS: We'll give you the number so you can do that. But we call her Master Mom, but she's the master at handling children and dealing with children issues. If you ever have problems with yours let me know.
SHAUNA LAKE: What would you be doing if you weren't preaching or teaching at the "U" I guess?
REV. DAVIS: I suppose if I were not, I would probably be a farmer. I'd probably grow some cotton and soy beans and maybe wheat and have some pigs with cows, probably a farmer.
SHAUNA LAKE: Was that an interest of yours?
REV. DAVIS: That was an interest of mine, and in fact when I first went to college I majored in agricultural engineering, which is a highfalutin term for farmer.
SHAUNA LAKE: For farmer. Well I'm glad that you chose your path because you've made such a big difference for so many people.
REV. DAVIS: Thank you.
SHAUNA LAKE: It's been so nice to get to know you better "Person 2 Person."
REV. DAVIS: Good to be here. Thank you.
SHAUNA LAKE: Thank you so much.
-Written and Produced by Leslie Tillotson
(Copyright 2014 Sinclair Broadcasting Group.)