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Arts & Entertainment

Pastor Present

Rev. France Davis tells of looking past obstacles in An American Story Told.

By Geoff Griffin
Posted // June 11,2007 -

When the Rev. France Davis first arrived in Salt Lake City in 1972, he showed up at an apartment where he had already paid a deposit and arranged to have a telephone line installed. When the landlady saw him for the first time and realized he was black, she refused to rent to him.

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Luckily for Salt Lake City, Davis decided to stay anyway'for more than 30 years.

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Without the tireless efforts of Davis as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Utah’s capital city would not have a thriving black congregation providing assistance'both spiritual and temporal'to those in need. Without his service for numerous organizations, Olympians from around the world would not have been able to come to downtown Salt Lake City via Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard when the world was welcomed here in 2002. His voice of leadership has helped people of a variety of faiths and races feel more comfortable and at home in a Salt Lake City that has become increasingly diverse since he moved here.

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Davis’ accomplishments while in Utah make up just a portion of his autobiography An American Story Told, written with Nayra Atiya. It also offers accounts of Davis growing up in the rural South, serving overseas in the armed forces and earning multiple degrees while studying in California.

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The book is divided into many small chapters'65 of them over 276 pages'that consist of Davis’ thoughts on a variety of topics rather than a chronological history of his life. This format allows Davis to discuss everything from the lessons he learned from his parents that still guide him today to how his religious faith helped him fight through the pain when a significant portion of his body was burned in an accident, to how he goes about preparing a sermon, to the significance of nicknames.

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While moving around on a variety of topics has the advantage of allowing the reader to develop a feeling for Davis’ personality, motivation and thought process, the disadvantage is that it’s difficult for the reader to get a sense of how Davis’ life moved from one phase to another. A couple of pages outlining the major events in his life would have been helpful.

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While many aspects of Davis’ life are interesting, what makes his story truly unique and compelling is what he has been able to accomplish since coming to Utah, despite what would seem to have been overwhelming obstacles when he first arrived here in the early 1970s. Those who lived in Salt Lake City at that time'this reviewer included'might recall that the LDS Church was much more dominant than it is now and was still a few years away from allowing any black man, no matter how well qualified, to hold its priesthood. The Davis family got stared at and questioned when they went out and followed whenever they entered a store. Davis started collecting hate mail in a folder that grew thick. Salt Lake City in the 1970s was a place that seemingly had little use for a black man trying to build up a black church, yet despite it all, Davis found success on his own terms and earned respect throughout the community regardless of race or faith.

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Even though that portion of his life makes for a remarkable story, this book does not dwell extensively on the obstacles Davis faced in Salt Lake City or how he overcame them. Not focusing on the negative might give some clue as to why Davis has been so successful. He deals with situations and then moves on to serving others without letting bitterness get in the way of his positive energy. Perhaps the most effective thing he did all along was simply to follow the advice of his father: “Don’t quit!?

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Whichever portion of his many-faceted life is being recalled, France Davis: An American Story Told is a story worth telling.

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FRANCE DAVIS: AN AMERICAN STORY TOLD
nRev. France A. Davis & Nayra Atiya
nUniversity of Utah Press
n276 pages
n$24.95

 
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