Forty-one years ago today, on June 5, 1973, Doris A. Davis, a 37-year-old school teacher turned city council member, was elected Mayor of the City of Compton, California, making her the first black woman mayor of a major, metropolitan American city, and only the second African American woman chief executive in US history.
Focusing on problems of a soaring crime rate and high unemployment statistics in Compton, a suburb of Los Angeles, Doris, a mother of two, captured 55.4% of the votes, defeating Douglas Dollarhide, the incumbent mayor, and seven other primary candidates to become head of the city. She served as mayor from 1973-1977.
“There is much political influence in being mayor of a black city. I get a kick out of politics; I like to see things happen.”
During her earliest days on the job, at a meeting of the City Council of Compton, a councilman, who mistakenly referred to Doris as Mr. Mayor asked, “Your honor, we are indeed fortunate to have such a charming, attractive mayor, but tell me, how would you like for us to address you?”
She replied, “I have researched the matter and I believe the proper title is ‘Madam Mayor’.” The councilman responded with a guffaw, “Madam Mayor?”, and continued, “I’m sorry Mrs. Davis, but madam has such a bad connotation; I think I’d better try to find another title for you.” Conceding that she had no qualms about “how you address me,” the new mayor of Compton proceeded to conduct her fist council meeting with an iron hand.
Apparently Doris was very accustomed to these types of chauvinistic innuendos and is reported to have responded in good humor to such things as a workman’s suggestion that she paint the door of her office pink, and a political opponent’s comment that “a woman’s place is in the home.”
To date, Doris Davis is the only woman to have served as mayor in the City of Compton. Prior to her mayorship, she was elected for three terms and served two terms (8 years) as the Compton City Clerk (1965-1973). Her initial election to that position marked another historic victory… the first black City Clerk in the United States.
Doris’s political career was preceded by and run in conjunction with a life in education. With a background as an elementary schoolteacher, who taught both in Chicago and Los Angeles schools, Doris founded the Daisy Child Development Centers, a non-profit organization, in 1967. She established it to provide unwed teenage mothers with additional options, such as employment, housing, child care, training, etc. Today, Doris remains the organization’s Executive Director, serving the child development needs of over three generations of citizens in Compton, California.