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#TBT - #BlackGirlMagic - Manima Wilson Davis: First Black woman to graduate Everett High & U of W

When family photos open a world of little-known historyand legacies that make you go “Wow!”, it keeps youwanting to dig deeper for more of the story that may be buried.  The images shared this week from the Black Heritage Society will hopefully inspire you to look at your own family albums and say, I need to know more.

Manima Wilson Davis (1886 – 1949)

This story begins with a photo of fourteen-year-oldManima Wilson.  Manima was born in Everett, WA in 1886 when Washington was still a territory.

She was the only child of Arminta Spears and Samuel Wilson, a Baptist minister. The family lived in Everett, Spokane and Seattle.  Arminta Spears Wilson was heavily involved with charity groups and was affiliated with the National Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs (NFCWC).Both Everett and Spokane were at the forefront of NFCWC in Washington State and it’s likely that Arminta was acquainted with Jennie Samuels and Nettie Asberry. Influenced by her mother’s activism, Manima would eventually become involved in the charity work atSeattle’s Central Area Sojourner Truth Home that provided housing and social services to single women and children.

*Extending your curiosity, there is a wonderful collection of images in the Al Smith Photo Collection that documents the 1948 national convention of NFCWC held in Washington State. Here’s one of the photos that was taken of four convention attendees in front of Garfield High School. – Courtesy of Museum of History & Industry

Manima was the first African American to graduate from Everett High School in 1907.  She was an excellent student and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in education at the University of Washington.  Manima is believed to be the first black woman to graduate from the UW.

Photo of Manima Wilson_Graduation Everett High School_1907

Photo of Manima Wilson - University of Washington 1910

Manima married Claude Davis in 1915. Their three children - Paul, Cathern and Harriett were born between 1916 and 1920 in Spokane, WA. The family also lived in Winnipeg for a time. By 1940, Manima appears in the Illinois census living with her 75-year-old father (Sam), 71-year-old mother (Arminta) and her 19-year-old daughter (Cathern). Nine years later, Manima Wilson Davis passes away at age 63.

Also, in the Black Heritage Society archives are photos of Manima’s mother and son, Arminta with baby Paul. There is a handwritten note on the reverse of the photo that reads: Mrs. S.G. Wilson & Paul. From Paul and grandma to grandpa with sincere love – We all enjoyed the chronicle. Photo taken March 22nd at 10AM, 1919, Winnipeg.

-Photo of Arminta Spear Wilson and grandson, Paul Davis_1919

Another photo captures Cathern Davis, Manima’s daughter with friend, Johnny Mae Smith standing in front of Seattle’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church in 1929. The family moved to Seattle in 1923.  Cathern graduated from Fisk University in 1941 and worked for more than 20 years in the Chicago public schools.  She married Ishmael Flory in 1957. In 1969 she became an assistant professor at Chicago City College.  Cathern worked alongside her husband on the appeal and campaign to free Angela Davis, the noted activist and advocate for the people, in 1972.

-Photo of Cathern Davis Flory (r) and friend Johnny Mae Smith_1929

Our old family photographs document history, they tell the stories of our lives and can give us surprise glimpses into the people and places that the images capture. Get out the family photo album and look deeper to observe and reflect on what you see. Pick one thing in a photo that you hadn’t noticed before, maybe it’s a signature you can barely make out, the pattern on the drapes, the dog in the foreground or the person with their back to the camera. Who, why and what?  Dig deep and write the story.

Are you interested in a mini workshop to learn how to best care for your old photographs?    Hint:  Never tape them down! Visit the Black Heritage Society website to watch for upcoming opportunities for best practice in caring for your treasures.  

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