By Wendell Hutson
Hyde Park resident and activist Carrie Lapsky Davis is featured in a cover photo for a new book by author Carter Dalton Lyon, “Sanctuaries of Segregation.” The book is about the 1963 movement to integrate the First Episcopal Church in Jackson, Mississippi, during which Davis and other Tougaloo College students were active involved.
The retired Head Start teacher for Chicago Public Schools said one of her life mentors was the late civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who taught her to stand up for herself and the rights of others.
The Hyde Park resident of nearly 40 years also helped elect the late Harold Washington as Chicago’s first black mayor in 1983 and fellow Hyde Park resident Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president in 2008. Photos line the walls of her Hyde Park home showing her with politicians with whom she worked, like as President Bill Clinton and his wife, two-time presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I organized about 50 to 100 women and we called ourselves ‘Women To Elect Harold Washington’ and we raised money for the general election,” recalled Davis, a grandmother of five and mother of two sons who attended elementary and high school in Hyde Park. “Harold was very charming and was grateful to my group for helping and believing in him.”
After Washington was elected, Davis said friends had urged her to run for 4th Ward alderman to represent Hyde Park, but said she declined because she enjoys her privacy.
“Nevertheless, we [citizens] have to be involved in government to make an impact,” said Davis. “You have to inspire other people to be involved too.”
She worked on several campaigns for Obama after being introduced to him at an event by a friend.
“I remember [my friend] telling me the night I met him that he was going to be our first, black president,” Davis recalled. “And wouldn’t you know it, she was right.”
According to Davis, she held a fundraiser for Obama at her Hyde Park residence and her son, who owns a private equity firm in California, did the same.
“I think Obama was a good president but I wish he could have done more,” said Davis. “But I know he had a lot of opposition so it was only so much he could have done.”
One thing Davis said she wished Obama could have done during his presidency was help HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) with funding needs.
As far as President Donald Trump, Davis said she does not think he is doing a good job and hopes he does not get re-elected.
“The things Trump is doing is totally un-American and we cannot just sit by and give him a pass or normalize this kind of behavior,” she said.
But Davis did not come from a political family. Her late father was Jewish and Polish and her mother was black. As an only child Davis said she has always identified herself as black despite very light skin.
“I got involved with the Civil Rights Movement because of Medgar Evers. He would come to Tougaloo College in Mississippi a lot to organize protests,” said Davis. “Evers encouraged students to get involved with the Civil Rights Movement.”
According to Davis, other civil rights leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., often came to Tougaloo, a small suburb of Jackson, to organize marches and events. As a result, Davis said she met King and many other black pioneers during an era when racial tensions were high.
In April 1963, Davis and a group of her classmates from Tougaloo College went to a Woolworth store in Jackson, sat at the lunch counter and demanded to be served lunch at a time when blacks were prohibited from eating at the same restaurant with whites.
“When we refused to leave the lunch counter the police came and arrested us. Some of the girls got sprayed with ketchup from whites who were yelling at us,” said Davis. “We knew we would be arrested but stayed anyway to stand up for our rights. This was something Medgar Evers taught us.”
Two months after Davis spent a night in jail, Byron De La Beckwith, a white supremacist, shot Evers in his driveway.
“I couldn’t believe it when he was murdered. I felt like I was in a dream and that this was not happening but it was real. My mentor, my friend was violently taken away from us,” said Davis.
The community activist, who is single, said she plans to keep fighting for the rights of others and helping blacks get elected into public office.
In 1964, Davis earned her bachelor’s degree in education from Tougaloo and later earned a master’s in urban studies from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. Had she not pursued a career in education, Davis said she probably would have been an anthropologist.
When Davis is not volunteering for political campaigns she occupies her time going walking along the lakefront for exercise and she an active participant with several community and social clubs. Previously, Davis owned Carrie Design Outlet, a clothing store in Hyde Park, and she is also a real estate broker.
“I love playing bridge, visiting with my family and friends and going to my [summer] home in the Bahamas during the winter,” said Davis. “Those who know me would describe me as someone who gives, loves unconditionally while hoping to make a difference.”