Deceased Name: Dr. Larry E. Davis
May 11, 1946 – March 30, 2021
Dr. Larry E. Davis – the former Dean of the School of Social Work, the founding Director of its Center on Race and Social Problems and the inaugural Donald M. Henderson Professor at the University of Pittsburgh – died at home on March 30 following a decades-long battle against cancer. He is survived by his wife, Kim Armstrong Davis, and by three adult sons – Keanu, Naeem and Amani Davis, as well as by an extended family of nephews, nieces, cousins and dear friends. He was preceded in death by his parents Clara Pearl Davis and Kires Davis, his sister Clara M. DeGroat, and two brothers Lamar Davis and LaVonne G. Davis.
Dr. Davis dedicated his career to the creation of solution-based dialogues that create a more racially equitable society. His academic work focused on the study of race, civil rights and social justice and was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Science Foundation. He had long been recognized as one of the leading scholars of race in America. In commenting on this focus, he wrote, “Race is what I always have thought most about. In fact, I have been thinking about race as long as I can remember thinking about anything.” Becoming more specific, he remembered asking himself, as a young boy, “If we (black people) were slaves, why are they (white people) angry with us?”
That question became the title of his most recent book, Why Are They Angry With Us? Essays on Race, which has been published by the Oxford University Press. The inviting and thoughtful tone of that book reflects one of the distinctive qualities that Dr. Davis brought to all of his work. He possessed a unique ability to raise difficult issues in ways that led others to want to listen and learn.
Dr. Davis was born in Michigan to parents who had escaped the oppression of Jim Crow-era Alabama. More of his high school classmates went to prison than to college. Fortunately, given all that he went on to contribute and accomplish, Dr. Davis was in the latter group. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Michigan State and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan. He then joined VISTA and spent three years working in one of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods. Afterward, he returned to the University of Michigan, where he earned a second master’s degree, in psychology, and became the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. from its dual degree program in social work and psychology.
He was invited to join the faculty of the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, one of the top-ranked schools in the country. He became the first African-American in any discipline to be awarded tenure at that university, where he also was named the E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity. He was recruited to the University of Pittsburgh in 2001 to serve as Dean of its School of Social Work, and he led the school to a top-ten ranking. He also was named the first Donald M. Henderson Professor and was the founding director of Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems, the first center of its type in any American school of social work.
Dr. Davis published an extensive list of articles and wrote, edited or co-authored seven books. Most of his books were intended for professional peers, including Race, Gender and Class: Guidelines for Practice with Individuals, Families and Groups, Ethnic Issues in Adolescent Mental Health, Working with African-American Males, Measuring Race and Ethnicity, and Race and Social Problems: Restructuring Inequality. However, some of his books, including Black and Single: Finding and Choosing a Partner Who is Right for You and Why Are They Angry With Us? were written for more general audiences. He also was the co-editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Social Work, 20th edition and was the founder and Chair of the Editorial Board of the journal Race and Social Problems.
Dr. Davis was a member of the National Association of Social Workers, the Council on Social Work Education, the Society for Social Work and Research and the Inter-University Consortium for International Social Development. He founded two national organizations, Black Administrators, Researchers and Scholars, Inc., also known as BARS, and REAP, a consortium of race, ethnicity and poverty centers. He was inducted into the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare and received the Distinguished Alumni award from the University of Michigan School of Social Work. He was the first person to receive both the Significant Lifetime Achievement in Social Work Education Award from the Council on Social Work Education, and the Distinguished Career Achievement Award from the Society for Social Work and Research, the major awards for education and research in his field.
Dr. Davis was deeply committed to the development of younger scholars and took special pride in the accomplishments of faculty members he had recruited or mentored. In every dimension of his life, he truly was a gentleman and a scholar. He also was an interesting companion and a gracious host, and he not only was well-read but also was well-travelled, having visited most parts of the world. Among his international accomplishments was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
In more distant years, he often said that coming to Pittsburgh was the best decision he ever had made. However, after he met Kim Armstrong Davis, he made clear that marrying her was his very best decision. Dr. Davis was understandably proud of his professional accomplishments, but he was most proud of his three sons – Keanu, Naeem and Amani – both because of their own high achievements and because of their strong character.
Friends will be received at John A. Freyvogel Sons, Inc. (freyvogelfuneralhome.com) 4900 Centre Avenue at Devonshire Street on Wednesday April 7th from 2-4 and 6-8p.m. where a Memorial Service will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, April 8th. That service also will be live-streamed, and a second memorial service will be held in the Heinz Memorial Chapel of the University of Pittsburgh at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that memorial gifts be made to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, 1 North Linden Street, Duquesne, PA 15110.