Researched & Compiled by

Delaitre J. Hollinger
Anita Louise Porter Lyles Davis, community leader, civil rights icon, elected official, humanitarian, philanthropist, neighborhood activist, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, godmother, and friend.
Anita Louise Porter Lyles Davis
October 3, 1936 – January 17, 2021
Anita L. Davis

Researched & Compiled by

Delaitre J. Hollinger
Anita Louise Porter Lyles Davis
October 3, 1936 – January 17, 2021
Anita Louise Porter Lyles Davis
October 3, 1936 – January 17, 2021
Anita Louise Porter Lyles Davis, community leader, civil rights icon, elected official, humanitarian, philanthropist, neighborhood activist, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, godmother, and friend.
The eldest of six children, Anita Porter was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania on October 3, 1936, to Malcolm C. and Jessie L. Ratchford Porter. In 1943, the family relocated to Buffalo, New York, where she would work alongside her mother, going door-to-door to register African-American voters. After graduating from East High School in 1954 Mrs. Davis enrolled in Buffalo State College, opting not to continue after the first semester. In 1986, she resumed her studies as a criminal justice major at Florida A&M University. Lovingly referred to on-campus as the “Grandma Graduate,” she graduated in April 1990 with a Bachelor of Arts degree at the age of 53. She pursued additional study at New York University and Florida State University.

On June 6, 1962 she married Morris S. Davis, then a member of the United States Air Force. For many years, she traveled with her husband and children before retiring and returning to Buffalo. The Davis’ held fond memories of traveling to the March on Washington of 1963, where they were captivated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. A public servant long before she held elective office, she began work as a fiscal bookkeeper with the Upstate Dairymen’s Association and Queen City Dairy, before joining B.U.I.L.D.; an organization which assisted in establishing a Halfway House for returning citizens. The Halfway House concept, still acknowledged today as one of the best transitional programs of its kind, originated in the aftermath of the Attica Prison Riots of 1971. She was appointed assistant director and subsequently, director of the Halfway House, which provided a supportive environment for returning citizens by offering employment and educational opportunities.

Always endeavoring upon innovative ways with which to impact her community, Mrs. Davis established the Nifty Enterprise Company. She utilized this organization to purchase homes from the city of Buffalo, which were renovated and sold to low-income residents. An active neighborhood advocate throughout her life, she served as president of the Glenwood Neighborhood Association for six years. She was also an active member of the Buffalo Branch of the NAACP, a member of the board of directors for the African-American Cultural Center, a founding member of Juneteenth, Inc. and a member of Saint Paul Missionary Baptist Church.

In 1979, Mr. and Mrs. Davis relocated to Tallahassee, Florida to be closer to her son Mark Lyles, then a student at Florida State University. She wasted no time in finding myriad ways to become involved in the local community. She met the Rev. C.K. Steele, civil rights leader, and Executive Vice President of the National Southern Christian Leadership Conference; accepting the invitation to become a member of his church, Bethel Missionary Baptist. She became a member of the Tallahassee Branch of the NAACP, where she joined the Executive Committee as 3rd Vice President under the leadership of President Allen Stucks. When Stucks resigned in 1981, Davis ascended to the presidency of the NAACP, becoming the first woman to serve in the role. The following year, the membership elected her to the volunteer position for a full two-year term. Professionally, she was employed during this time as a civil rights and employment specialist with the Florida Department of Labor.

As President of the Tallahassee Branch of the NAACP, Anita Davis made a monumental and transformational impact on electoral politics. In 1983, she filed suit on behalf of the NAACP against the Leon County Board of County Commissioners, on the basis that the body was inaccessible to African-Americans. She worked hand-in-hand with the Leon County Democratic Executive Committee on the lawsuit, then chaired by Jon Ausman. Finding success when the courts ruled in her favor in 1986, the commission was ordered to establish a single-member district system for its elections. Rather than all candidates having to run countywide for five at-large positions, five single-member districts were created, with two additional seats remaining at-large, creating a seven-member board. This meant that an African-American was all but assured of a seat on the commission, and in November 1986, Dr. Henry Lewis, III became the first African-American to be elected to the Leon County Commission.

During this time, Mrs. Davis decided to make her own foray into local politics when she filed to run for Leon County Supervisor of Elections in 1984. Though she did not make it to a runoff, she endorsed Lucretia Shaw Collins, another African-American woman who had also filed to run for the seat in the general election.

Throughout the 1980s, Mrs. Davis focused her attention on tackling the crack epidemic of the 1980s, chairing the Community Task Force on Drugs and Crime and establishing the NAACP/CRACK task force. She planned and organized community marches against drugs, successfully appealed to county commissioners to award more contracts to companies run by blacks and women, and organized marchers who converged on Washington, D.C. in 1989, to protest supreme court rulings which placed restrictions on affirmative action, minority set-aside programs and gave states more control over abortions. She organized an NAACP boycott of local restaurants called “Operation Fair Share,” in an effort to secure more visibility for blacks in the restaurant industry. When she received assurances from city and county leaders that a proposed 1-cent sales tax would include specific rehabilitative support programs that would make it easier for jail inmates to re-enter society, the NAACP changed its position and endorsed the proposal. This included funding stronger work-release programs; expanded vocational, literacy, job-training and high-school-equivalency programs; worship services; and beds for inmates suffering from mental health problems or drug/alcohol dependencies.

In November 1990, Anita L. Davis became the first African-American woman to be elected to the Leon County Board of County Commissioners, where she served until November 1996. In this role, she was also the first African-American to serve as Chairperson of Leon County, Florida, and the first African-American to be elected to two successive terms as a county commissioner. As a Commissioner, Mrs. Davis served as the Board of County Commissioners liaison to the Lake Munson Action Team, which developed an action plan to restore Lake Munson. These efforts ultimately included the restoration of Lake Henrietta, located upstream along the Munson Slough. Commissioner Davis also led the charge for the construction of new ballparks in Woodville, the southside library branch, and the health clinic now located on Old Bainbridge Road, among many other initiatives. Following her service on the Board of County Commissioners, she continued to serve on Leon County’s Human Services Grants Review Committee, which evaluates human service funding requests through the Community Human Services Partnership and makes recommendations to the Board.

Upon taking office in 1990, Mrs. Davis resigned the NAACP presidency, deciding to focus on local youth and her job as the District 1 county commissioner. She founded the Tallahassee Branch of the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) Program; a yearlong achievement program designed to recruit, stimulate, and encourage high academic and cultural achievement among African-American high school students. ACT-SO includes 32 competitions in STEM, humanities, business, and performing, visual and culinary arts. Almost 300,000 young people have participated in the program since its inception. Mrs. Davis consistently recruited the best and brightest students from Leon County high schools, who unfailingly won gold, silver and bronze medals and prize money in national competitions. Serving as ACT-SO Chair for 21 years (until 2011), she nurtured, mentored and encouraged thousands of local students through her engagement, personal sacrifices, reassurance, mother wit and willingness to help steer any and everyone in need in the right direction.

In 1996, desiring to have an even broader impact on national affairs, Mrs. Davis decided to run for the United States House of Representatives in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District. Upon doing so, she became the first African-American to run for Congress from Tallahassee. Though she did not win the election, her service to mankind and desire to make a difference did not waiver. In 1997, she ran for Mayor of Tallahassee, becoming the first woman to run for the directly elected office of Mayor. In 1998, she ran to reclaim her county commission seat, coming up short by just 15 votes. In 2002, she made a final run for public office, again opting to run for the county commission seat she had helped to create.

In 2000, she ran and was elected President of the Tallahassee Branch of the NAACP against an incumbent; this marked the first time that a sitting branch president had been upset in a local branch election. During this time, she was vocal in Florida’s 2000 election debacle, testifying before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about election procedures and elaborating on allegations that several minority voters were denied their right to vote by various means during the 2000 election. Among the topics they addressed were voter registration procedures, ballot design, and actions taken during vote recounts in the election.

On May 22, 2018, the Leon County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to rename Lake Henrietta Park to the Anita L. Davis Preserve at Lake Henrietta Park. Commissioners dedicated the more than 100-acre tract to Mrs. Davis during a ceremony in celebration of her 82nd birthday, in which she became the first African-American woman to have a county park named in her honor. She organized “Operation Ghana,” in Kumasi, which was established to assist African children educationally. The result of her efforts was the construction of a new school for the deaf and blind, which was named in her honor.

Selected Awards and Recognition

  • First Legacy Award – The Oasis Center for Women and Girls
  • Proclamation – Leon County Board of County Commissioners
  • Inducted into the NAACP Civil Rights Hall of Fame
  • Inducted into the Gallery of Distinction – Florida A&M University College Education
  • Lifetime Achievement Award – Florida Trial Lawyers
  • C.K. Steele Civil Rights Award – C.K. Steele Foundation, Inc.
  • Legend Award – Tallahassee Urban League, Inc.
  • Aquilina Howell Award – Tallahassee Urban League, Inc.
  • Gwen Cherry Award for Outstanding Human Services – Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority
  • Rattler Pride Award – Florida A&M University
  • Outstanding Leadership Award – Frontiers International
  • National Distinguished Service Award – Rotary International
  • Neighborhood of the Year – Leon County (Jake Gaither)
  • 25 Women You Need to Know – Tallahassee Democrat
  • Silver Beaver Award – Boy Scouts of America
  • Received a Letter of Commendation from Gov. Charlie Crist

Community Service/Affiliations

  • President, Jake Gaither Neighborhood Association
  • League of Women Voters
  • National Council of Negro Women
  • Vice President, Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches
  • Leon County Democratic Executive Committee
  • Board Chairperson, Tallahassee Urban League, Inc.
  • ABWA “Silver Dome” Chapter
  • Chairperson, Boy Scouts of America At-Risk Council “Operation First Class”
  • Life Member, Beta Delta Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. (Chapter Reporter, Philo Advisor, National Philo Advisor)
  • Leadership Florida, Class XIII
  • Treasurer, Capital Women’s Network
  • President, Capital City Democratic Women’s Club
  • Chairperson, Florida Consumer Action Network
  • Chairperson, Housing Development Corporation of Tallahassee
  • Chairperson, National Association of Counties Task Force on Aging and Intergenerational Issues
  • Blueprint 2000 Advisory Committee
  • Florida A&M University National Alumni Association
  • Rattler Mixed Bowling League
  • Jake Gaither Women’s Exercise
  • Florida Supreme Court Mediator

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