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Former local NAACP President Rudy Davenport Dies

Former Springfield NAACP President

Rudy Davenport, a former President of Springfield’s NAACP branch and the 2001 Copley First Citizen, died Saturday after a long illness. He was 89.

Davenport — who was born in Georgia, grew up in Chicago and moved to Springfield in 1966 — was a leader in dozens of community programs during his decades in the capital city.

Teresa Haley, President of the Illinois NAACP and the Springfield Branch of the organization, said Davenport will be missed and will always be remembered.

“Rudy was a gentle giant. He was a real tall, big guy, a real loving and caring person,” Haley said. “He would sit and talk to anybody and listen to anybody. He was willing to take on anyone’s causes, especially if he believed that they were being mistreated or being discriminated against.”

One of Davenport’s most significant achievements was his role in the federal lawsuit in the 1980s that led to Springfield changing its form of government. At the time, Springfield had a commission form of government that included commissioners who were elected citywide.

Davenport was among three black residents who filed suit charging the minority vote in Springfield was diluted because the city elected its council citywide. The suit was the first voting rights case taken to court in a northern city. The case led to the creation of the city’s current aldermanic form of government, where the city is split into 10 wards, and each ward elects a member of the city council.

The three original plaintiffs in the lawsuit were Davenport, Frank McNeil, who would later be elected a city alderman, and businessman William Washington. Washington died last year at the age of 84.

McNeil said Davenport was an important force in the lawsuit.

“Rudy was tireless; he was dogged. He didn’t quit,” McNeil said. ”… There is still a lot that needs to be done, but you can say there is representation from local communities now that wasn’t there before.”

In 2001, Davenport talked about the lawsuit when he was named First Citizen. He said the change in Springfield’s form of government was one of the accomplishments he was most proud of.

“Changing the form of city government was the hardest work I’ve ever done. There was more risk involved than in everything else I’ve done,” Davenport said.

Davenport also served as a founding member and president of the Springfield and Sangamon County chapter of Habitat for Humanity and has participated in many other local committees organized to improve community relations and deliberate on racial matters.

“He was very aggressive in some respects,” McNeil said. “When he took on a task, he was going to complete the task. … He was involved in all kinds of things. He didn’t stop once the voting rights suit was over. When everything was well and done, I went on to the city council and Rudy went on and dealt with Habitat for Humanity and a number of other organizations, which he became very much involved in, including the Citizens Club of Springfield.”

Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner also talked about Davenport’s wide range of community interests.

“Whenever there was a community need, you could definitely go to him and he was always willing to immerse himself into it. He will be greatly missed,” Turner said.

Haley said she worked on several projects with Davenport, including an NAACP project called Back to School/Stay in School. The project served children who had been expelled or suspended from school and had no place to go.

“Mr. Davenport did a lot of the legwork for us to really get that program up and going,” Haley said.

Longtime friend Allan Woodson, a former Springfield alderman, said Davenport was highly articulate and principled.

“He was a tireless advocate for people or for those whose rights were being compromised or denied. He always stood up for them. I always liked his tenacious spirit. I used to tell Rudy that he had a streak of tenacity in him that I really admired,” Woodson said.

Woodson added the lawsuit was good for the entire city of Springfield.

″(The lawsuit) goes beyond making things better for a large segment of the city’s African-American population. … But it also gave every other part of our community a representative. The northeast side, the southwest side, you name it. So it went beyond just color. And that was the kind of guy (Davenport) was. He was all about representation, equality and fairness,” Woodson said.

McNeil said Davenport had been ill for the last three to four years.

“He had a number of illnesses. Declining health has sort of kept Rudy down, but whenever he could get up and go, he went,” McNeil said.

Turner said she last saw Davenport at a going-away celebration for the Rev. Robert Freeman at Grace United Methodist Church last year.

“He was in a wheelchair when he came in. The whole church lit up because they were so excited he was able to come and participate,” Turner said.

Turner added one of Davenport’s joys was singing bass in a church a cappella group, Men of Grace.

Davenport retired as an internal auditor for the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation in 1989. He also served in the Korean War.

Ruby Funeral Service & Chapel, 1520 E. Washington St., is handling arrangements. As of Sunday evening, a full obituary was not yet available on Ruby’s website.

http://www.sj-r.com/news/20180408/former-local-naacp-president-rudy-davenport-dies

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Illinois State Quarterly Meeting

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May 5th Quarterly Meeting.

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NAACP Springfield Lobby Day
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