Sacramento Public Library

Living History with James Scott

Speaking to the local African-American experience with artist Darryl Davis
So much of the joy of being a librarian comes from the knowledge that’s gained through engaging patrons. The traditional notion of the library as repository of important things is only half true. It’s also a place where ideas and interests find exchange through meaningful discourse between those who choose to enter the library and those who choose to work there.
One of the thousands who enter Central Library every month is Darryl Davis. The tall, well-dressed, often bespectacled, gentleman is a pied piper of sorts. He’s connected to downtown Sacramento like few others are. Over the years, he’s forged relationships with urban professionals and homeless alike. Whether it be on the street or in the library, it’s hard to get through a conversation without Davis pausing to greet a friend.       
Like so many Californians, Davis is not from here. And like so many of us, he came to California looking for something better. It wasn’t always an easy path for him, but things are stable now – he lives in a community he trusts and can focus on what he does best: art. Davis’s artistic talents were nurtured by a loving mother, leading him to a life as a professional artist. Today, he has works that hang at several notable spots in the upper American South, including the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Artisan Center.
For a few years, Davis and I have talked about his art – current projects, projects to come, projects that could never get off the ground. We have also talked about art in the context of history, the latter being a subject that’s a huge part of my job as a librarian. Moreover, I am always looking for new ways to expose the community to Sacramento’s rich cultural heritage.
In time, we finally settled on a collaboration — a 10-piece exhibit of sketches and watercolors that speak to the African-American experience in Sacramento. An African-American himself, Davis has brought his own brand of interpretation to Sacramento history while also solidifying a sense of place. “My love for history is deep and my ability to express that love through art has brought a new dimension to the library while also enabling me to collaborate with [the library],” says Davis. “The ability to share my work and connect with people means a lot.”
Davis also embraces the ability to bring a spotlight to historical difference-makers who have been lost to the fogs of time. “Buffalo Soldiers in Spanish-Style Hats,” which hangs at the University of Kentucky, is one such work. “The soldiers were forgotten…like ghosts…I was energized to bring them back to life.” Within his library work, Davis was drawn to create a rendering of T. Allen Harvey, African Methodist Episcopal minister and the first president of Sacramento’s NAACP chapter, who not only fought in the Spanish-American War, but was the first African-American to win a civil rights suit in Sacramento. “He’s another unknown that I feel like I’ve done my part to resurrect,” says Davis. 
Davis’ exhibit runs through the end of February and supports our Tapestry series on the history of Sacramento’s African-American Community, held this month and again in March.
James Scott has been a reference librarian with the Sacramento Public Library since 2000. For most of that period, he has worked in the Sacramento Room, where he has co-authored four other books on Sacramento history.


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