Pillar of Springfield Died April 7 at age 89.
When it came time to invite partners to join us in our efforts to dismantle institutional racism in our religious community, Rudy Davenport was among the first we called upon. Renowned for his one-time presidency of the local NAACP branch and for his landmark role in a successful federal Voting Rights Act lawsuit that changed the form of government in Springfield, for the Dominican Sisters Rudy was more friend than icon.
Members of the Springfield Dominican Antiracism Team (SDART) recall the impact Rudy has made on their lives and their work dismantling racism.
Sister Marcelline Koch, who along with Leroy Jordan is the team co-coordinator, said of Rudy, “I so valued his contributions, trusted his insight, and appreciated his presence. After being with us on SDART a few years, he brought Donnita, his wife, into the work. He only left the team when her health required more care from him. His activism was always accompanied by gentleness and care.”
Leroy Jordan reminisced about his part in a three-way race for Ward 2 alderman in 1991, the first election under a federally mandated change of government that was called for to bring Springfield into compliance with the Voting Rights Act. “I ran against Rudy and Frank [McNeil]” Leroy recalled. “It was the hardest thing I ever did. We were all friends.” Frank McNeil won the seat. “I came in second,” Leroy said, “but as I look back on it, Rudy would have been a better alderman than me: He was so sharp. He could identify problems quickly and knew right away when someone wasn’t telling the truth.”
Johnetta Jordan recalls meeting Rudy in the 1960s. “When we first move here Rudy was involved with NAACP,” she says. “That’s how I got to know him. What impressed me was how gentle he was, especially with his wife when she was sick. He was truly a person who cared about his community and tried to do everything he could for his community.”
Sister Margaret Ann Cox remembers a conversation she had with Rudy in those early SDART days. Recognizing—perhaps better than we did ourselves the challenges we would face in the process—she recalls Rudy saying, “In my lifetime I have known people who were lynched for trying to do what you sisters are doing.”
“He was a mentor of mine I valued his council and support. I’m going to miss that,” said Doug King, another founding member of SDART. “I’m going to miss calling him. I’m going to miss seeing him. I don’t know if [Springfield] will come to appreciate how valuable he is to us. He did things in a way that was not one-sided. He was willing to hear from every side.” Doug and Rudy were friends, and both deeply engaged in the creation of Springfield’s African American History Museum, both having served as presidents of the organization.
“When I first met Rudy, with all of his knowledge of Racial Injustices an Human Rights, he became my Martin Luther King of Springfield,” said Howard Derrick, a founding SDART member and respiratory therapist at St. Dominic Hospital, Jackson, Miss. “My experiences with Rudy will always be a part of my life that I will forever reflect upon. Rest in Peace God’s Soldier for Civil Rights.”
SDART members Charlie and Katie Minor have also served on the team since 2004. From their home in Jackson, Miss., Charlie wrote, upon hearing of Rudy’s death, that he was happy to have served on the team with Rudy in those early years.
“Before there was SDART, there was just the Springfield Dominican Sisters trying to get our heads around what it meant to understand our biases. And into that struggle stepped Rudy Davenport,” recalls Sister Beth Murphy. “Rudy came to the motherhouse one Saturday in the 1990s, if my memory serves, and administered a racial bias test. He was so gentle with us as he helped us understand the results. I count it a privilege to have known him and benefited from his commitment to us and to the city.”
Funeral services for our friend, Mr. Rudolph Davenport, are scheduled for 10:00 a.m., Saturday, April 21, at Union Baptist Church. Details here.