30 August 2006

...The Quiet Legends

By Bobbi Booker

Edward 'Chick' Davis played pool in his native South Philadelphia
during an era when America's most roguish sport earned legitimacy and
popularity via its successful stars, including Minnesota Fats and
Willie Mosconi—both of whom played against Chick during his formidable
years. Playing in pool halls across the country Davis frequently
encountered discrimination and had to fight for his right to play as
an equal. This experience motivated him to invest his winnings into
opening three of his own pool halls on South Street in Philadelphia.

Recently, the 98-year-old pool hall marvel joined family and friends
in witnessing the dedication of the "Tribute to Edward 'Chick' Davis"
mural next to the site of one of his pool hall sites at 1418 South
Street. Painted by John Lewis, the mural celebrates Davis' legacy as a
pioneering business leader, entrepreneur, and community activist.
Davis started playing billiards at the Christian Street Y and went on
to become a national championship caliber player.

"This was a man who was multi-talented, but this was where he kind of
made a renowned mark because he played people like Minnesota Fats,
Willie Mosconi, who were legends who got a lot of recognition," said
son Edward Davis, III. "Here's a man who played Ralph Greenleaf for
the national championship just before Jackie Robinson broke into the
national league. So, he was a first."

The dedication featured a special performance by the CAPA Dance
Company, under the direction of LaDeva M. Davis, Chair of the Dance
Department and Chick Davis' daughter. Davis, one of the legends two
children, spearheaded the efforts to recognize her father's
contributions to the sport of billiards and his hometown. Chick was
instrumental in keeping clean a sport that was usually played in smoky
bars and on late nights where a win was just as dangerous as a loss.

"Until people discovered that Queen Cleopatra had a pool table in her
abode, they thought that pool was a dirty sport," said Davis. "And my
father did a lot to clean it up. He made sure that there were no
drugs, alcohol or anything illicit in his pool halls. Women were
welcome to come and partake of the sport. He gave lessons. He would
sit and impart his knowledge of all that he'd went through in his

Davis explained that her father was a basketball player, but turned to
pool to support his growing family. In addition to his contribution to
the sport of billiards, Davis spent most of his lifetime with his
south Philly childhood sweetheart, LaDeva Davis, who died at age 93 in
2004 after 75 years of marriage. "The big deal is that there are
people here that love my Dad and who have known my Dad for years, or
who love my Dad because of what he stands for and have only just met
him in the last 2, 3, 5 years."

Amos Florence "Process" Junior, who owns a South Street barbershop of
the same name, was among the 100 guests gathered for the dedication.
In addition to sharing a longtime friendship with Davis, Florence has been
similarly honored with a mural in West Philly. "We go back to the days
where his grandfather taught me how to be a barber," said Florence.
"I learned to cut hair in the '40s and I've owned a shop since then."

The Mural Arts Program director Jane Golden excitedly announced that
the Davis wall painting was number 2,659 in a series indoor and
outdoor murals in Philadelphia, more than any other city in the world.
"Everyone, I have to say, was universally thrilled and enthused about
this project," said Golden. "I know I'm biased, but standing here
today and looking at this beautiful image I want to say to you that
murals have a distinct kind of power. It's their size; it's their
scale; it's the way they surprise us when we're coming up the street.
But more important than that, it's a way of holding on to our stories
(and) to our history. Murals are about our dreams and our aspirations;
our struggles and our heroes, (and about) the people who meant
something to us."

The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (MAP) started 25 years ago as part
of the Anti-Graffiti Network (PAGN), a citywide initiative to
eradicate destructive graffiti and address neighborhood blight. Today,
Philadelphia is nationally and internationally recognized as America's
"City of Murals."

"I feel very honored to be part of the tradition of bringing art to
all the citizens in this city," said Golden. "Art is not a luxury: it
is a necessity. And the fact that so many people in this city can walk
by, drive by, run by mural of this scale and complexity is wonderful."

With a sparkle in his eye, the senior Davis kissed the hands of ladies
he was introduced to, but said little as his friends moved him around
gingerly to keep him cool during the dedication.

"Thank you," he said as he gazed at the mural. "I like it very much."


1 comment:

Kent said...

I arrived in Philadelphia in late August 1966 to go to school at Philadelphia College of Art at Broad & Pine. I was 18 years old (barely), white (still am) and a rube from Harlan, Kentucky. About a block and a half away from the school was Chick's Billard Box, downstairs on Rodman Street. I went there immediately because Southern boys in that day usually grew up in pool rooms, and I was no exception.

The thing is, everyone in Chick's was black, except me, but that was somehow never a problem. Chick treated me like a son and took care of me--so much so that soon I was working there some mornings, handling the room, and the cash register, myself while Chick attended to business at his other place on South Street.

Chick taught me so much--and not just about playing pool. He had more character and wisdom than most of the people I have ever known put together.

I'm a lawyer now (and all the pool rooms are gone). But I think about Chick almost every day.

I want to thank you for writing about him. He was also the best pool player I have ever known, and I hope he gets the historical recognition he deserves.

Chick ("Dad"), if you are reading this, I know you won't remember me, but that's OK. I'm just glad to have the chance to say thanks.


(tall skinny kid with red-blond hair, always heading south on the holidays)