DETROIT - It was a dreary February afternoon, but Ed Davis' living room was bright and cozy. His vivid account of his life was compelling.
Surrounded by scrapbooks recording his accomplishments as the nation's first black new-car dealer, Davis recalled moving from Shreveport, La., to Detroit in 1932 so he could get a better education. Flipping through pictures of himself receiving awards and shaking hands with civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., he detailed how white employees at a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership where he landed a job selling cars refused to work with him.
Davis, a man of many firsts, died Monday, May 3, of congestive heart failure. He was 88.
On that February afternoon this year, Davis autographed a copy of his book, One Man's Way, while explaining how he opened a used-car dealership in 1939 and became the nation's first black new-car dealer when he was awarded a Stude-baker dealership in 1940.
Without a hint of bitterness, Davis recalled how his Detroit Studebaker dealership went out of business in 1956. With pride, Davis told how he became the first black person to be awarded a Big 3 franchise Nov. 11, 1963.
With some sadness, Davis explained that Ed Davis Inc. (Chrysler-Plymouth-Imperial) in Detroit closed in October 1971.
'Looking back, yes, it was difficult,' said Davis. 'But almost everything I was doing, no other black had done. I took the responsibility for trying to make something happen that wasn't happening. I never decided 'They're not doing something because I'm black.' I'd just find some way to do it.'
Cecil Ward, who is in charge of selecting minority dealer candidates at DaimlerChrysler as its director of minority retail dealer development, said he will never forget some advice from Davis.
'He said if you want to ensure the success of the candidates, make sure that they are experienced in the retail automotive business,' said Ward. 'I took that to heart; he was absolutely right.'
Davis is survived by his of wife of 57 years, Mary Agnes.