Agnes Harris Davis memorial Saturday

10/04/2013 5:53 PM

10/04/2013 9:03 PM

Agnes Harris Davis, an ardent preservationist of a vanished African-American neighborhood in downtown Columbia, will be eulogized Saturday.

Services are set for 1 p.m. at Bostick-Tompkins Funeral Home, 2930 Colonial Drive, for Davis, who died Sept. 29 at age 69. Burial will follow at Old McGraw Cemetery in Eastover.

Davis was an unofficial historian of Ward One, an impoverished neighborhood in the shadow of the State Capitol that was home to unpainted shotgun houses and swept yards during the first half of the 20th century. Seen by Columbia’s white and black leaders as an urban blight, Ward One was demolished in the 1960s to make way for USC’s Carolina Coliseum and other edifices of a more prosperous capital city.

Davis acknowledged the poverty that surrounded her youth, but she and others who formed the Ward One Reunion Organization focused on the camaraderie of the neighborhood that intersected at Blossom and Assembly streets, and the sense of family closeness that extended for blocks.

Even so, she said some of her friends remained mystified why she held memories of her poor childhood so dear.

"They say, ‘Why are you so interested in it? Would you want to be back there?’" Davis said in an interview in 2010. "But you had to live in it to know what it was about. Everybody took care of each other. If one house didn’t have, another would give."

In 2010, when the Richland Library hosted an event devoted to reflection and memories of Ward One, Davis, then Harris-Perez, was there to share her stories.

She recalled games of jump rope and marbles, Tom Thumb weddings, stops at Booker T. Ashe’s Devine Street Grocery to sneak bananas, and a home movie theater rigged up by her brother Henry using the Sunday comics. Union Baptist Church was a neighborhood social and religious hub until it was demolished in 1966 to make way for the coliseum.

Agnes Harris Davis grew up at 606 Park St. in Ward One, the youngest daughter of a cook and a peddler. She was educated in segregated schools, including Booker T. Washington and C.A. Johnson High schools.

Davis, who served a stint as president of the Ward One Reunion Organization, said she often traveled the streets imagining the old neighborhood that included the small groceries and juke joints, the churches and the Celia Saxon school that occupied the land where the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center now stands.

It left her a little bereft, she said, even though she understood the aspirations of her neighbors to move up out of Ward One to more prosperous addresses.

"I feel an emptiness," she said. "There is no semblance that we were a community."

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