The cover of the June 17, 1974 edition of Time shows an all-American family: a husband and wife sit with their daughter beaming behind them; in front of them, the son and pet German Shepherd sit on the floor. All are smiling, stylishly dressed, although the son’s outfit is more than a fashion statement – he’s sporting a crimson Alabama football jersey.
This wholesome snapshot of life in the mid-1970s conveys the highly sought-after suburban American dream, an idea further explored in the cover story titled “Middle-Class Blacks: Making It in America.” The article chronicles a rising African-American middle-class, a previously almost unheard-of trend. In fact, statistics cited in the article show that, although more than a century had passed between the end of slavery and the magazine’s publication, significant strides toward economic equality were not made until the 1960s. Because of the cover story’s historic nature, this particular issue of Time is on display in the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C.
J. Mason Davis, the Birmingham, Alabama attorney, husband and father on that magazine cover, brings its existence up as almost an afterthought in conversation about his storied life, although with a list of accomplishments and accolades as long as his, it’s easy to see how it could slip his mind. Among these achievements is one he holds especially dear: serving as the first African-American Chairman of United Way of Central Alabama’s Board of Directors in 2002, highlighting his lifelong commitment to UWCA’s work in the community.
“I began giving to United Way – at that time it was called Community Chest – when I was six years old, as part of Tuggle Elementary School’s Pennies Campaign,” he said. “When I became a Senior Partner at Sirote and Permutt, I was encouraged to join the newly formed Tocqueville Society, and I’ve been giving at that level ever since. Over the years, I’ve found that the more you give, the more you get.”
On October 3, 2019, another addition to Mr. Davis’s long list of honors will come to fruition with the launch of a new UWCA leadership society that bears his name. The J. Mason Davis Leadership Society will bring together changemakers working to positively impact the African-American community through a shared affinity for philanthropy, leadership, volunteerism and advocacy. Mr. Davis perfectly exemplifies this vision for the group. Tickets for the event can be purchased here.
The Birmingham native’s legal career started almost 60 years ago, before African-American lawyers were even able to join the Birmingham Bar Association. He was among the first to join in 1971, then was elected as the first African-American president of the organization in 1983. Throughout his long career, his commitment to the African-American community has been a major factor, especially during the Civil Rights era, when he provided legal representation to participants of a sit-in in Huntsville, as well as when he helped older African Americans prepare for the now-illegal literacy tests that were required for voter registration.
Mr. Davis cites his wife June, seated next to him on the Time cover, as integral to both his professional success as well as his philanthropic development.
“June always said, ‘If you find something that you see needs to be done, do it yourself.’”