Notable People

Russell Davis - Cleveland's First Black Principal

Bratenahl Place
Russell Howard Davis
Russell Howard Davis

Mr. Davis was a teacher, administrator, civic activist, and historian of Cleveland’s black community. He was the first black male to serve in Cleveland’s secondary schools and the firsts black principal of a Cleveland school.

Russell Howard Davis was born October 29, 1897, in Cleveland to Jacob and Rosalie Davis. His father was a black postal worker, and his mother was a French woman. He attended Central High School in Cleveland and was an all-scholastic football player and track team member.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from Adelbert College of Western Reserve University in 1920.  When he applied and Case School of Applied Science, he was told, “There’s no future for you in engineering.” Despite the warning, he attended Case and received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1922 and a master’s degree in education from Western Reserve University in 1933. Davis was a football tackle and basketball player at Western Reserve.

In World War I, Davis was in the Western Reserve University Army Training Corps. During World War II, he was chairman of the War Price and Rationing Board in the Cleveland area.

In 1951, he transferred to Rawlings Junior High School, and in 1962 became principal of the new Harry E. Davis Junior Hight School, named for his brother.

After retiring in 1965, Mr. Davis served two years on the Ohio Board of Education in 1968 and was a Bratenahl Board of Education member.

In 1943, Davis spearheaded the Welfare Federation’s Central Area Social Study, creating the Central Area Community Council. He also helped organize and was the first president of the Glenville Area Community Council and was an incorporator and executive committee member of the Neighborhood Settlement Association.

Davis chronicled Cleveland’s black community’s history in newspaper columns and books, writing Memorable Negroes in Cleveland’s Past and completing a project begun by his brother, the encyclopedic Black Americans in Cleveland in 1972.

Mr. Davis was a trustee and treasurer of Karamu House and a trustee of the Family Service Association, Garden Valley Neighborhood House, and the Maternal Health Association. He was on the advisory committee for the School of Applied Social Sciences at Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital.

He was also a member of the Ohio School Survey Committee, the men’s advisory committee of the Girl Scouts, and the Neighborhood Settlement Association.

Russell married Claire Richardson in 1923. They had a son Russell Lee born in 1924 and died at age eight on May 4, 1933.

Russell Howard Davis died on November 14, 1976, after a four-month illness. He was buried in Lakeview Cemetery.