Ms. Helen Beatrice Jenkins was born July 28, 1894, in Columbus, Ohio, the 12th of 13 children of Sallie and William George (Billy) Jenkins. Helen’s father was born into slavery in 1849. After the end of the civil war and slavery, William Jenkins moved to Jamestown, Ohio where he met and married Sallie.
Ms. Jenkins grew up on Spring Street, in an area that is presently part of Martin Luther King Drive. Helen graduated from the Columbus Normal School, in the top five percent of her class; and continued her education at Ohio State and Capital Universities. Discriminatory practices within the public educational system caused a delay of approximately two years before Davis’ appointment to a teaching position in the
Columbus Public Schools in 1918. She was among the first Black teachers, in the first integrated Columbus Public School, Spring Street Elementary. Helen B. Jenkins Davis’ teaching career spanned over 37 years; and she retired in 1954.
In January of 1932, Helen married Raymond Davis, a Physical Therapist. They built one of the early homes in the Lucy Depp addition, north of O’Shaughnessy Dam, on land that belonged to the freed slave Abraham Depp for over one hundred years. Their marriage ended in divorce after twenty-three years.
In 1976, Mrs. Davis was a star witness who testified in Judge Robert Duncan’s Federal District Court, in a discrimination lawsuit filed against the Columbus Public Schools. She spoke of the inequality of teacher assignments and the unequal distribution of books and supplies in predominantly Black Columbus schools.
Mrs. Davis was an extremely well traveled woman who believed in the possibilities of education and exposure. Helen regularly shared memories and her travels through photos, books and stories. A perseverant and spiritually uplifting woman, who appreciated and recognized the hard work of others, Helen was active member of the
Second Baptist Church, until her death. She was also responsible for organizing senior citizens to help stuff more than two thousand envelopes supporting a Columbus School levy.
Mrs. Davis is remembered for her love of children, keen sense of competition, strict discipline, and delightful sense of humor. There are those who knew her as their sphere of influence, encouraging them to complete their education and contribute to that making lives worthwhile. Helen Jenkins Davis encouraged young people to “Strive for Super
Mrs. Davis lived an extremely healthy lifestyle, eating healthy, growing many of her own vegetables and entering them into Ohio State Fair competition, and studying the benefits of vitamins and herbs. Helen Beatrice Jenkins Davis’ healthy living served her well, as she
lived to be 93 years old. Mrs. Davis died on June 28, 1987.
Gwendolyn C. Williams-Wade, B.Ed., M.Ed.
Project: Education Access
For more information about the scholarship or the organization contact Gwendolyn here.
An article about Ms. Davis in the Columbus Dispatch from one year ago.