If any one thing characterized American journalism during the social unrest
of the 1960s and '70s, said press critic David Shaw, it was the emergence of an
aggressive, skeptical, and often shrill American press no longer content to
accept the status quo. Lied to repeatedly about Vietnam, Watergate, and U.S.
financed assassination plots against foreign governments, an angered press began
digging beneath the surface for more analytical, interpretive reporting to explain
events.' Often, Shaw wrote, it placed journalists at risk with readers who
became uneasy with "their once-predictable newspapers" which brought them,
instead, disquieting news:
Simply by reporting what happened--and reporting in great and
gory detail--the press frightened and infuriated large segments of
the American public. No one wanted to hear that blacks were
being discriminated against, starved, beaten, murdered--and that
those atrocities were taking place daily, in large measure because
of the bigotry (or, at the very least, the callous and careless
indifference) of society at-large .'
Against this backdrop emerged more journalists "demanding to know the
reasons and causes and motivations behind the day's events."3 Their work and
thought represent the changing nature of American journalism and a lens
through which to view the times and prevailing standards of journalistic
practice, yet few thesis or dissertation topics deal with biographical studies of
In many ways, the work of H.G. "Buddy" Davis typified the times. Davis
was an influential voice in North Florida for twenty-seven years, first as an
editorialist for the Gainesville Sun and later as a syndicated columnist for the
New York Times Regional Newspaper Group, which includes the Sun. His
Pulitzer Prize-winning editorials in support of the peaceful desegregation of
Florida schools were published in 1970 when waves of reform were sweeping
the country and resistance to change was acute. Davis produced some of his
best writing during the social upheaval of the 1960s and '70s, although his work
is not confined to that period alone. An ardent liberal and hard-hitting critic,
he championed unpopular causes at a time when public sentiment often stood
squarely against the newspaper's editorial stand. By advocating integration,
forced busing, and an early withdrawal from Vietnam, Davis and the Sun clearly
challenged the status quo of conservative North Central Florida.
His activist editorial stance won national recognition and support and, on
occasion, lost newspaper subscribers at every turn. Davis alienated builders,
developers and gun fanciers alike with his impassioned pleas for managed
growth and hand-gun control. He championed the cause of the average wage
earner and lambasted the tactics of special interests. In a style reminiscent of
the muckraking period at the turn-of-the-century, he took swings at corruption
and campaigned for reform. Not everyone appreciated his confrontational style
of journalism with its broad-sided barbs and acid commentary. As writer Al
Burt once observed, "He does not just criticize, he verbally punishes."'
Davis has been very much a part of what has happened in journalism since
the 1950s. During his thirty-one-year tenure on the faculty of the College of
Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, he remained at
the forefront of a strong undergraduate faculty.
An administrator's evaluation in 1979 suggested that Davis had "perhaps
the best national reputation of any faculty member in the college, not so much
because of his Pulitzer Prize but because of his involvement in professional and
educational organizations and because of his reputation for quality teaching."'
He was Sigma Delta Chi national vice president for campus affairs, adviser to
the society's magazine, and, for thirteen years, university chapter adviser. Some
educators resisted his stringent teaching methods, but few argued about his
effectiveness. He held the title of Distinguished Service Professor, the
university's highest faculty rank, and served as a major link between the
journalism department and the newspaper industry of the state. He was one of
ten journalism professors from around the country selected as representative of
the best in their field in 1983.'
No history of the College of Journalism and Communications would be
complete without reference to Davis. During his tenure under three deans, the
school grew in stature into a college recognized nationally for the quality of its
undergraduate education.' A review of his teaching career, therefore, represents
part of the historical record of the college he helped shape. His contributions
and status as a journalism educator also appropriately qualify him as a subject
Davis gained his greatest fame, however, as a journalist, and his views from
that perspective alone merit study. As the research literature suggests, the field
can benefit from more studies about journalists and journalism educators and
THE TEST OF EXCELLENCE
Like many other Southern towns in the winter of 1970, Gainesville, Florida,
entered the new decade under a cloud of uncertainty over the issue of racial
segregation. It had been almost sixteen years since the U.S. Supreme Court, in
the landmark case of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, had
declared segregated schools unconstitutional. Yet in those sixteen years, many
school districts, particularly those in the South, had failed to comply by legally
evading the law.'
Gainesville was a prosperous North Florida city in the middle of the
rolling hills and farm lands of the state's central ridge. It was also home to the
University of Florida and much of the state's powerful agri-business interests.
Like much of Florida, Gainesville and surrounding Alachua County had
witnessed tremendous growth. By 1970, the population of the city alone had
reached almost sixty-five thousand, more than double its size a decade before.2
As a college town, Gainesville liked to think of itself as a progressive
community, yet it never had been progressive enough to initiate integration
voluntarily.3 The county as a whole, and most of North Central Florida,
remained predominantly rural and conservative.
Alachua County schools had tokenly integrated in 1963 when three black
students were admitted to white schools by court order. In Gainesville that
summer serious disturbances had broken out when black residents tried, with
eventual success, to break the racial barrier and get into Gainesville theaters.'
Gainesville integrated public facilities in relative peace during the 1960s, but in
many ways it had been a typical Southern community. No-black policies had
been the norm in the South, not only at movie theaters, but lunch counters,
restaurants, and motels. Blacks customarily were relegated to menial jobs,
"colored" waiting rooms, the back seat of the bus, and all too often, the
Supreme Court declared in its 1954 ruling, to inferior, segregated schools. All
that began to change, however, with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
The system of segregation began to crumble under legal pressure, and it
became increasingly clear that the courts were becoming impatient with school
districts that failed to comply.
By 1970, Alachua County was moving in the direction of a more fully
integrated school system for the fall term.6 State officials had been trying to
head off court orders to desegrate schools at mid-term when on January 15, the
U.S. Supreme Court issued an order to stunned school districts throughout the
South: Integrate completely by February 1.'
The prospect of massive student-teacher reassignments and cross-busing
brought threats of non-compliance statewide and fear of reprisals and violence.'
In Alachua County concern was no less intense. As tempers flared and other
sections of the state fought the ruling, however, the hometown Gainesville Sun
mounted a campaign calling for reason and calm by appealing to readers with
the following editorial published January 18, 1970:
Willie Loman was a beer-and-undershirt sort of guy who really
wanted to be something better, especially in the eyes of his son
Biff, but he couldn't quite make it. He wasn't humble about it,
and he turned into a loud-mouthed bore, trying to egg Biff on,
until Biff said one day:
"Pop! I'm a dime a dozen and so are you."
And Willie's wife saw Willie's eyes film over and she cried in
desperation, "He's a human being and a terrible thing is
happening to him. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such
But it was too late, and Willie Loman left the house and
That's the way Arthur Miller tells it in his play, "Death of a
Salesman." And it turns out to be a pretty sad story about the
fruits of human neglect and callousness and selfishness and that
final moment of truth when a human being realizes the frigidity of
his own soul.
Did you feel the chill last Wednesday?
Cloaked in the majesty of the law and with full thrust of
moral force, the U.S. Supreme Court singled out Alachua County
by name and declared that our school system is illegally contrived
and we must integrate the races.
Not in ten years, not in five years, not in one year, but in 13
We can react with hysteria and jerk our kids out of school and
make threats and throw up quickie segregation academics. We
can encourage the kids to make trouble and the teachers to balk
or quit. And we can tell the School Board to go to jail rather
than obey the law of the land.
None of these things are likely to happen in Alachua County
for a very simple reason. We are not that kind of folk.'
The editorial acknowledged the difficult task ahead and the "confusion and
misunderstanding" likely to result in the process. Then it cautioned:
The world is going to change for us all next February 1. We
can greet the new challenge with hope and enthusiasm. Or we
can look into the eyes of our children and see our failure
mirrored there as Willie Loman saw his failure reflected in the
eyes of his son Biff.
"He's a human being and a terrible thing is happening to him,"
cried out Willie Loman's wife as Willie left the house.
That is one heritage we will not leave."
The editorial was one of thirty-one published by the Sun on the issue
throughout that year of crisis." They were hard-hitting, crusading editorials that
attacked prejudice and defiant politicians, led by Florida Gov. Claude R. Kirk,
who faced off with U.S. marshals and suspended school officials to keep them
from implementing court orders. Instead of resistance, the editorials urged
compliance with the law. Instead of bigotry, they pled for tolerance. All were
written by a moonlighting professor, H.G. Davis, Jr., who supplemented his
income as a University of Florida journalism professor by writing for the Sun in
his off hours.
Davis was an amiable man of deep conviction--a workaholic who spent
long hours grading papers, reading, and pounding out editorials during the early
morning hours. He sacrificed to the rigors of a dual profession "the more
substantial pleasures of life, he said, including "the before dinner highball"'
and time with his wife and two children.
A profile of Davis has been etched in prose by writers and former
students. He was short and somewhat "plump," said one, "topped by a wrangle
of black hair that spit-curled its way onto his forehead."" Students
characterized him as a man of exuberant good humor with a "Cheshire-cat grin,"
a hearty unmistakable "cackle,"" and a colorful North Florida drawl which gave
new expression to certain words as he raised his voice in class." He was jaunty
and self-assured--keenly astute and widely read, though he passed himself off as
a rootless, provincial "boondocker" and "scuff-shoe journalist" without lofty
Davis had a reputation as a tough instructor who expected the best from
his students--a cross, said one, between Napoleon and Henry David Thoreau."
He was outspoken among his colleagues and argumentative in support of a
principle. By all accounts, he could be contentious, intimidating, and inspiring.
He was, in short, a man "cursed, damned, hated, adored, venerated, and
idolized often all in the same moment.""
Davis had made a career out of being a Southern cracker," an image he
shed somewhat in later years by parting with his cigar and cultivating a beard.
His editorials, by 1970, also had already revealed him to be a liberal Southern
reformer and advocate of civil rights for blacks.
Davis had for eight years provided a strong editorial voice for the Sun's
opinion page. He had attracted national attention as winner of the national
journalism society's 1963 Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Award for
editorial writing and the prestigious Sidney Hillman Award, both honors
presented in recognition of the newspaper's efforts in dealing with racial unrest
in Gainesville." The Sun had editorialized in favor of integrated public
facilities and taken the position that civil rights for blacks was an issue whose
time had come and one the community had to confront. Editorials had pressed
for amicable solutions to problems and played to the community's sense of fair
play by insisting that Gainesville was not a town prone to violence."
The newspaper's subsequent year-long campaign over school integration in
1970 was consistent with its earlier stands in support of desegration.
Throughout the year the Sn. cautioned against resisting further guidelines to
integrate, denounced violence when it erupted and praised the conciliatory
attitude of students, which stood out, it said, in sharp contrast to the
grandstanding of Gov. Kirk." All of this, however, had come at some cost to
the newspaper, which advocated views not always welcome by the community at
large. Although circulation and advertising reached a new high in 1964,
subscriptions had initially dropped off when the Sun first adopted its editorial
stance in support of civil rights, and many readers rejected outright the
newspaper's early call for U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam." It was reassuring to
management when executive editor Ed Johnson began hearing at state and
national professional meetings the following year that the newspaper had a
strong entry in the Pulitzer Prize competition. "Our interpretation was that we
were also rans, which is pretty good for a newspaper of 24,000 circulation in a
community of 84,000,"" Davis wrote. "I considered that quite an honor," he
said. "I also considered that I wasn't going to win."" Johnson, however, was
On Sunday, May 2, the day before the awards were to be announced,
Johnson invited Davis and his wife, Margie, over to his house for dessert and
presented Davis with a copy of Charlton W. Tebeau's book, A History of
Florida." Inscribed inside was the Pulitzer editorial citation, breaking the news
in a not-so-subtle fashion:
Buddy--'The test of excellence is clearness of style, moral
purpose, sound reasoning and power to influence public opinion."
You pass--congratulations! Carole & Ed, May 2, 1971"
Davis may have had his doubts, but celebrations already had been
tentatively planned. Johnson urged him to be on hand at the Sun the following
day when the awards were to be announced, but Davis, wanting to spare
himself embarrassment if he lost, refused. He did take time to dress up and
chewed his nails, he said, until word came over the teletype that the SIn had
won. He arrived at the newspaper with his wife and daughter, Jennifer, sixteen,
in time to take phone calls and join the newsroom staff in champagne toasts
out of paper cups. Ironically, for the occasion, Davis said his son, Greg, twenty,
true to the stand taken editorially by the Siun was in Washington, D.C., "sharing
a cell with three priests" for taking part in the moratorium against the Vietnam
Calls from reporters eager for a comment began coming in into the paper
almost immediately, but Davis, a loyal print journalist, decided to give
statements to the Associated Press, United Press International, and a Sun
staffer before leaving for home.' "I want to make sure that there is no
impression that the Sun or I did this," he told reporter Skip Perez for the local
story. "It's the people here. Progress is due to the people, not some
newspaper or editorial writer." On a more personal level, he said his
accomplishments were due in large measure to having "an understanding wife
and family," who made his work possible."
Despite the attention and praise, or perhaps because of it, Davis was
decidedly uncomfortable at the dinner for journalism faculty scheduled that
night. To coincide with the award announcement, the dinner turned into a
testimonial, with newspaper management on hand for the occasion. Davis was
elated over the award, but he later confessed that he felt "compromised" in that
situation because even though his two careers remained inextricably intwined,
he had tried hard to keep his full-time teaching job and his moonlighting work
as editorialist separate. He was also aware that not all faculty liked him or
approved of his editorial stands. In fact, he found out later that some members
of the faculty had been circulating a petition that day to curb his work at the
Sun. The Pulitzer, he said, effectively "squelched it.""
The award brought attention not only to Davis, but to the Sun and to the
university as well. Congratulatory telegrams and letters poured in from well-
wishers across the country, and Congressman Don Fuqua, an editorial adversary,
had the honor noted in the Congressional Record May 18, 1971." Florida
newspapers, in particular, picked up on the news. "UPs Buddy Davis Wins
Pulitzer," announced the Orlando Sentinel in a story played across the top of
the front page. "Gainesville Sun Editorial Writer Wins Pulitzer," "Moonlighting
Prof Took Aim at Kirk," read the Florida Times-Union The Miami Herald
tried for a lighter touch: "Pulitzer Pleases 'Old Farm Boy,"' as did the St.
Petersburg Times. which noted, 'Two Fingers Win Pulitzer Prize," in an allusion
to his typing style, which, in reality, he says, is by touch. In the New York
Times, Davis was pictured on Page 40-C of the May 4, 1971 issue, along with
sixteen other Pulitzer winners." The award was the second Pulitzer for the SLun
and an added bonus for the Times which had purchased the newspaper from
Cowles Communications management in 1971. Times executive John H.
Harrison had won the Pulitzer in 1965 for an editorial campaign on housing
codes he wrote for the Sun as publisher." Davis recalled that Harrison sent
him flowers and a congratulatory message, and Times publisher Punch
Sulzburger remarked how coincidental timing had been because no sooner had
The Times bought the Sun in 1971, than the newspaper won the award."
Davis said it was Harrison who advised him that winning the Pulitzer
would change his life, but he was determined that it would not. He vowed to
try to take it all in stride and declared, as the years would eventually bear out,
that he was content where he was. The Pulitzer did bring its rewards. It
established him as an opinion writer and enhanced his credibility with the
students." It also brought a listing in Who's Who and standing as a
Distinguished Service Professor, the university's highest faculty rank. For the
most part, however, life remained the same, as Davis wrote several years later,
reflecting on the prize:
Even before the Pulitzer, I was happy because I was shaping
The Pulitzer is a most meaningful thing to me. It confirms
that I made a wise choice of profession, it confirms that I am
doing society some good, it confirms that my work is professionally
respectable. But it is no crowning achievement, because I still am
trying. Maybe it was a climax, but I refuse to admit it."
Davis was forty-six years old when he won the Pulitzer Prize and at ease in
a setting which allowed him to wear two hats as a journalist and educator
during his most productive years. He refused to acknowledge the honor as a
"crowning achievement," but in many respects, it was indicative of the kind of
effort he expended on both fronts for so many years. Davis had concluded long
before that whatever good fortune came to him would be the result of hard
work, logic and cleverness." It was a lesson he learned early in life.
1. Lewis Lipsitz, American Democracy (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986),
2. Community Data Summary: Gainesville & Alachua County Florida.
Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100 (March 1988).
3. "Invisible No More," Gainesville Sun. 17 December 1969, sec. A, p. 8.
4. [Horance G. Davis], "Listen, the Wind," Gainesville Sun. 20 August 1970,
sec. A, p. 6.
5. [Horance G. Davis], "A Call for Leadership," Gainesville Daily Sun 5 June
1963, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis], "The Vacuum Filled," Gainesville Daily Sun. 7
June 1963, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis], "No Time to Falter," Gainesville Daily
Sun, 23 June 1963, sec. A, p. 4.
6. Ed Johnson, forward to Gainesville Sun Editorials by H. G. Davis Jr.: 1971
Pulitzer Prize. n.p., n.d.
7. Clif Cormier, "Rush Is On To Mix Schools Here," Gainesville Sun. 16
December 1969, sec. A, pp. 1, 4; "Rush Integration, Schools Here Told,"
Gainesville Sun. 19 December 1969, sec. A, p. 1; "All County Pupils To Feel
February Desegregation," Gainesville Sun 15 January 1970, p. 1, 4.
8. "NAACP Studies Contempt Charges Against Schools," Gainesville Sun. 18
January 1970, p. 1.
9. [Horance G. Davis] "Goodbye, Willie Loman," Gainesville Sun. 18 January
1970, sec. A, p. 8.
11. Ed Johnson forward.
12. Horance G. Davis, Jr., Gainesville, Florida, to John Hohenberg, New York,
New York, TLS, 19 March 1973, Davis personal files.
13. Jim Moorhead, Buddy Davis Roast and Toast. 14 November 1985,
produced by WUFT-TV, Gainesville, Florida, 1985, videocassette.
14. Roy Peter Clark, "Buddy Davis IS a Power of the Press," St. Petersburg
imes. 11 February 1979, sec. G, pp. 1, 4, 15.; Denise Lang, "How Great a Zot
is the Pulitzer?" Orlando Sentinel Florida Magazine 12 December 1971, sec. F,
pp. 10-15; Judy Graham quoted in Charles G. Wellborn, Jr., "Just a Simple
Country Boy," University of Florida Magazine. 2, no. 3 (1971): 3-8; Jim
Moorhead, Roast and Toast: Walker Lundy, 'These Were the Three Greatest
Teachers I Ever Had," Tallahassee Democrat. 30 August 1981, sec. 3, p. 3.
15. Paul Ashdown, Letter of tribute to Buddy Davis upon retirement, bound
volume, 1985, Davis personal file; Clark, "Davis IS a Power," sec. G, p. 4;
Wellborn, "Country Boy," 3-8.
16. Horance G. Davis, Jr., 'The Wise Investment of Surplus Brain Power," Phi
Kappa Phi Jounal 48, no. 1 (Winter 1968): 20-24; Horance G. Davis,
"Humphrey Is a Lesson for Bush," Gainesvlle Sun. 7 August 1986, sec. A, p. 10.
17. Benny Cason to L. W. "Kit" Carson, squire New York, New York, TL 20
March 1966, Davis personal file.
18. Mary Anne Walker, "That J-Teacher: A Tape Recorder Train Wreck," The
Gannetteer (May 1966): 36.
19. Buddy Davis, interview by author, 3 September 1987, Gainesville, Florida.
20. Russell E. Hurst, Chicago, Illinois, to H. G. Davis, Gainesville, Florida,
TLS, Sigma Delta Chi Award, 30 March 1964, Davis personnel file, College of
Journalism and Communications, University of Florida, Gainesville; "College
Faculty Grows From 3 to 33 As Students Increase from a Handful in 1949 to
644 Today," Communigator 18, no. 1 (January 1968): 10-11.
21. [Horance G. Davis], "No Negroes Allowed," Gainesville Daily Sun. 8
February 1963, p. 6; [Horance G. Davis], "The Spirit of the South," Gainesville
Daily Sun 21 May 1963, p 4; [Horance G. Davis], "A Call for Leadership,"
Gainesville Daily Sun. 5 June 1963, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis], "The Vacuum
Filled," Gainesville Daily Sun 7 June 1963, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis], "We
Wear It Well," Gainesville Daily Sun. 13 June 1963, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis],
"No Time to Falter," Gainesville Daily Sun. 23 June 1963, sec. A, p. 4;
[Horance G. Davis], "In Time for Summer," Gainesville Daily Sun. 30 June
1963, sec. A, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis], "Some, But Not All," Gainesville Sn. 22
August 1963, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis], "Who Is to Speak?" Gainesville Sun. 10
December 1963, p. 4.
22. Gainesville Sun Editorials by H. G. Davis Jr.: 1971 Pulitzer Prize.
23. Fred Lane, "Sun Has Biggest Year Ever," Gainesville Sun. Progress Edition,
26 January 1964, sec. D, p. 4; Buddy Davis, interview by author, 9 June 1988,
24. Davis letter to Hohenberg.
25. Ibid; Davis interview, 25 November 1987.
26. Davis letter to Hohenberg.
27. Davis interview, 25 November 1987.
28. Davis letter to Hohenberg.
30. Skip Perez, "Editorials Give Atmosphere So Ideas Can Flow: Davis,"
Gainesville Sun. 4 May 1971, sec. A, pp. 1, 4.
31. Davis letter to Hohenberg; Jean Chance, interview by author, 11 January 1988,
32. Congress, House, Representative Fuqua of Florida speaking about Buddy
Davis winning the Pulitzer Prize, 92d. Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record.
vol. 117, pt. 2, daily ed. (18 May 1971).
33. "UF's Buddy Davis Wins Pulitzer," Orlando Sentinel. 4 May 1971, sec. A,
p. 12; "Gainesville Sun Editorial Writer Wins Pulitzer," "Moonlighting Prof Took
Aim at Kirk," Florida Times-Union. 4 May 1971, sec. A, p. 2; Raul Ramirez,
"Pulitzer Pleases 'Old Farm Boy,"' Miami Herald. sec. D, p. 19; 'Two Fingers
Wins Pulitzer Prize," St. Petersburg Times. 5 May 1971, sec. B, p. 3;
"Biographical Sketches of the Recipients of the 55th Annual Pulitzer Prizes,
New York Times, 4 May 1971, sec. C, p. 40.
34. "Gainesville Sun Wins Pulitzer Prize," Gainesville Sun. 4 May 1965, p. 1.
35. Buddy Davis, interviews by author, 3 September 1987 and 25 November
1987, Gainesville, Florida.
36. Davis, interview 25 November 1987.
37. Davis letter to Hohenberg.
In one way or another, the Depression years defined a generation,
especially the very young who grew up in the 1930s. Buddy Davis was no
exception. He was a product, he said, "of hard times and migrant railroaders.'"
Davis was born July 14, 1924, in Manchester, Georgia, southwest of
Atlanta, and spent his boyhood in a succession of towns where his dad, H. G.
Davis, Sr., sought work.' As Davis later wrote:
During the root-hog-or-die days of the Great Depession, my
dad trucked produce out of Tifton, ran a dinky service station in
Smithville, sold insurance in Atlanta, repaired locomotives in
Americus and Manchester, and made auto parts in Detroit.3
His paternal grandfather, J. T. Davis, settled on a mortgaged two-hundred-
acre farm in Tift County, working side-by-side with black sharecroppers who
lived on the land. It was "a true two-horse farm," Davis wrote, "--no running
water, no electricity, no refrigeration, and no powered equipment except a Ford
flivver with a finicky water pump which had to be repacked for every trip into
Memories of those days run deep. Davis recalled the day his father drove
him out to the farm before dawn to see the smoldering remains of his
grandfather's barn and the "charred hulks of two mules."' He remembered his
grandfather sitting in the doorway of the shed crying. 'That was farm life in
southern Georgia, circa 1930," he wrote. "It was a Depression year, but I can't
remember anything but Depression years on that farm."'
His maternal grandfather, Oscar J. Beavers, was a railroad man who
sacrificed a leg in a train wreck. "He was a Casey Jones who survived and did
not have any ballads written about him,"' Davis wrote in a tribute. As a child,
Buddy enjoyed standing in the hallway of his grandfather's house in Americus,
Georgia, playing 'The Wreck of Old 382" on the Victrola. Pa Beavers left
quite an impression on his grandson, who admired the care he put into his
work. "He obviously believed in the sanctity of work and was impatient with
imperfection--as any good machinist is apt to be, because imperfection means
trouble,"' Davis wrote.
In 1930, when Buddy was six, his parents divorced and he moved with his
mother to Jacksonville, Florida, where she took a job working long hours as a
clerk at Lerner's clothing shop downtown. They moved into cheap boarding
houses--first next to a fire station and, later, adjacent to an ice cream factory in
the Springfield section. Those six years were formative years when some of his
deepest convictions and attitudes took hold. "I was an urban street brat during
the tender years between six and twelve," he wrote. "My status in life was
somewhere between a latchkey kid and a vagrant. The miracle is that my
rebellion against the establishment is restricted to words only."' The summers
offered a welcome break at his grandfather's farm in Tifton. It was the only
chance he had to see his dad. "He made an effort to get me," Davis recalled,
"but that burned mother and I lost total contact."" As for city life, he said,
"What I liked best about the city was bidding it goodbye."" His memories of
that period are often harshly realistic and bitter:
Back in the city, the thing I hated most was not having any turf
of my own. A landless urban brat gets screamed at a lot--for
crossing lawns, scaling garages, rattling picket fences, playing cops
and robbers. This kid owns nothing and has no territory and is a
source of endless friction with those who do. The rejection, the
humiliation, the ego-smashing is life-scarring."
Life was hard enough for most people in a two-parent household, but for a
young mother rearing a son alone, getting by usually meant subsistence living
and a second-hand toy at Christmas. Buddy was among the throng of kids who
showed up for the annual Christmas party and hand-me-down gifts at
Jacksonville's Florida Theater. To an impressionable boy, it was hard to shake
the memory of trading in a used bike for a pair of shoes he needed more."
"The basic thing I figured out was that I had to outwit people," he said. "I
became aware that whatever happened to me it wasn't going to be given to
me unless I used my head.""
For a lonely boy with a lot of time on his hands, Depression years carved
deep prejudices and enduring sympathies. He began to value cleverness and
the benefits of an education. Hard times, for him, bred self-reliance, not
resignation, and his liberation came through reading, he said, and "scrounging
coathangers," which he negotiated for candy and pulp magazines. Coathangers,
he later wrote, "saved me from a life of degradation and crime.""
The vicarious joys of reading provided an escape from reality. "Reading,
friends, is devoid of bitchy landladies," he confessed. "Children are love objects
to be nurtured, not humiliated."" He became an avid fan of Doc Savage, a
pulp magazine character who got things done by being inventive, a message not
at all lost on a young reader. Because he could not afford to buy the
magazines, he soon discovered he could acquire another used pulp for ten
coathangers. He later wrote:
From thenceforth, no shack was too humble and no castle was
too proud to be spared repeated assault. I panhandled the length
and breadth of Springfield, leaving no door unknocked .... Their
gifts sustained me until the age of 12 when, upon moving from
Jacksonville, I found a public library and Hemingway and
The move came in 1936 when his mother remarried and they relocated in
Starke, Florida, about forty miles southwest of Jacksonville, where his
stepfather, W.N. North, had taken a job as education director at nearby Florida
State Prison at Raiford.' Starke was a small North Central Florida town, or as
Davis later described that section of the state, it was "a narrowly focused,
exploitive and not particularly enlightened rural society."" For a youngster, life
there centered around school, church, and Scouts. He was reared, he said, "by
lip-service Methodists"' and guided through youth by the Boy Scouts of
Bradford County High School welcomed a mix of students from the town
and country in the late 1930s. It left an unmistakable impression peculiar to
time and place, he later wrote:
The Great Depression even had a smell about it--a combination
of sweat, Vaseline hair oil and Octagon soap and bacon drippings,
hog slop and cow manure, and fried ham and cane syrup all
combined with the inescapable wafting of oil that coated the
school's wooden floor."
Buddy's arrival in Starke caught the eye of one person in particular,
Marjorie Lucile Davis, a local girl two years his junior. "I told my mother, 'The
cutest boy just came to town, and not only that, he's got my name,'" she
recalled. "He was sort of bashful," she said. "Buddy didn't notice girls that
much. I think he was trying so hard to be liked by the guys. He always was a
loner. I think he felt he didn't belong.""
Davis said as much himself, but unlike her, he wrote, he had not spent his
life in one town:
So I know what it is to be the new boy on the block. And it's
terrible. The youth culture has a rigid pecking order. Most
youngsters must establish themselves in the hierarchy once or
twice in a lifetime. I had to do it eight times during my most
In truth, he had little good to say about small towns, which he viewed as
"devastating to character development." Small towns were all alike, he said,
"mean." Nor did he look kindly on the local mercantile class. 'There is no
way" the small town establishment "will treat a migrant kindly," he said. "Even
through the soft focus of nostalgia, small town adults come through with
Nearly fifty years later he still bristles at the thought of working for a local
grocer who deducted Social Security from his hard-earned pay and never
bothered to send in the card. It bred in him an aversion to being reliant on
someone who could dictate his fate and reinforced his determination to go to
college and stand on his own." He felt exploited and it left him distrustful of
business practices which reap profits at human expense--a sentiment which
repeatedly surfaced in his later editorials. He stopped short of characterizing
those who were well off as uncaring, but from his perspective, "the grown-up
world, indeed, was composed of the 'haves' and the 'have nots.'"" He
I find some 'haves' are pretty decent. I respect those who not
only earn their status with sweat and cleverness and risk, but are
reasonably humble about it. I snob 'haves' who flaunt it. I am
infuriated by 'haves' who demand-and inevitably get-special
treatment. But when 'haves' secure their privilege at public
expense, I dream about drowning them in toe jam."
Davis came by the work ethic naturally. He was from a line of proud but
hard-working north Georgians who were descendants, he said, of some landed
Virginians, but culture, he said, "tended to fall off'" the further into the frontier
"Buddy always worked,"" Margie recalled. When he was not clerking in a
grocery store, he sold popcorn at the movie theater in Starke or worked nights
setting up games at a carnival. She knew in high school he was the boy she
wanted to marry.
Still, as graduation approached in 1942, Buddy's prospects for the future
looked dim. He had spent the last two years of high school commuting to
Starke from the family's new home in Raiford, just beyond the prison grounds.
It seemed to him that the oil dealer's son, the banker's son and everyone
around him "had a slice of the world already carved out for them."' Had it not
been for World War II, the GI Bill, and college, he probably would have been
fated, he said, to pump gas, night-ride with the Ku Klux Klan, and sell
moonshine on the side."
Working as a welder's helper in Pensacola with his uncle that summer
offered a way out and financed part of his freshman year at the University of
Florida. But the war, he said, "made the whole thing seem so futile."" Instead,
he volunteered for the draft and joined the Army Air Corps April 24, 1943, just
before his nineteenth birthday."
1. Horance G. Davis, Jr., untitled column for the Atlanta Constitution. 15 July
1977, Davis personal file.
2. Buddy Davis, interview by author, 30 July 1987, Gainesville, Florida.
3. Horance G. Davis, 'The Way Reagan Killed Peace," Gainesville Sun. 5
January 1986, sec. C, p. 2.
4. Horance G. Davis, Jr., untitled column for the Atlanta Constitution 24
August 1977, Davis personal file.
6. Horance G. Davis, "It Was Enough to Make Me Weep," Gainesville Sun 7
July 1985, sec. F, p. 2.
7. Horance G. Davis, Jr., untitled column for the Atlanta Constitution. 29
March 1978, Davis personal files.
9. Horance G. Davis, "Escapism Bought for 10 Coathangers," Gainesville Sun.
24 February 1985, sec. B, p. 3.
10. Buddy Davis, interview by author, 3 September 1987, Gainesville, Florida.
11. Davis, "Escapism Bought," sec. B, p.3.
13. Horance G. Davis, "Hard-Times Christmases Help the Good Ones Be
Appreciated," Gainesville Sun. 25 December 1987, sec. A, p. 15.
14. Davis interview, 3 September 1987.
15. Davis, "Escapism Bought," sec. B, p. 3.
18. Davis interview, 3 September 1987.
19. Horance G. Davis, "It's Worth It to Pay Back Loans," Gainesville Sun. 18
August 1985, sec. B, p. 2.
20. Horance G. Davis, "Why Celebrate Christmas?" Gainesville Sun 21
December 1983, sec. A, p. 4.; Horance G. Davis, "Chickenhawk's Call to Arms,"
Gainesville Sun. 15 June 1986, sec. B, p. 2.
21. Horance G. Davis, "Who Said the Rich Are Perfect?" Gainesville Sun 31
July 1986, sec. A, p. 14.
22. Margie Davis, interview by author, 22 October 1987, Gainesville, Florida.
23. Davis, "Reagan Killed Peace," sec. C, p. 2.
24. Davis, column for Atlanta Constitution 15 July 1977, Davis personal files.
25. Davis interview 3 September 1987.
26. Horance G. Davis, "The 'Haves' Vs. the 'Have Nots,"' Gainesville Sun. 1
August 1985, sec. A, p. 10.
28. Davis interview 3 September 1987.
29. Margie Davis interview, 22 October 1987.
30. Buddy Davis, interview by author, 27 January 1988, Gainesville, Florida.
31. Davis, "The Wise Investment," 20-24.
32. Davis, "Worth It to Pay Back loans," sec. F, p. 2.
33. Certificate of Service, Army of the United States, Book 4, p. 95, Davis
the only person to vote against Jones when the committee met in university
President Stephen O'Connell's office.' He said he thought Jones he would
make a poor administrator. "He's too nice a guy to be dean," Davis said.
"Oddly enough," Davis, "he never treated me like anything other than a
Jones said he never held it against Davis. He knew Davis wanted to bring
in someone from outside the college. "It didn't bother me," he said. "I didn't
take it personally.'"
In later years, though, Davis said he had the feeling he had alienated
himself from the faculty over campus and academic issues. He thought he was
looked on as a "loose cannon" and was not particularly well liked, though others
minimize his assessment.
Faculty members may have disagreed with Davis, but Jones said he
seriously questions whether they disliked him. "I think Buddy may have felt
they did. He's quite sensitive to criticism, but I don't agree he was generally
disliked," Jones said. "I think people admired him and his accomplishments and
Weimer said he prided himself, while dean, on heading a faculty who were
all outspoken. He and longtime Davis friend Charlie Wellborn agree, Davis
alienated himself, but as Weimer said, "it wasn't anything bitter."5
When Davis retired from teaching in 1985, though, Jean Chance, in a
published tribute, noted that, no doubt, "more than one professor--and a couple
of administrators and department heads--breathed easier this fall when the first
faculty meeting closed in thirty-one years without some sort of challenge by the
college's resident firebrand."'
In truth, Cunningham recalled, "Buddy had conflict with just about
everybody while he was here. He was extremely outspoken, not diplomatic,"
said Cunningham. who confessed to sharing the same trait.
Often, Davis was viewed as rigid, particularly at faculty meetings, where he
insisted on adhering to, rather than waiving, regulations and rules established by
the college." He simply refused to let some things drop.
Faculty member Don Grooms recalls Davis would insist the college either
enforce its rules, out of fairness to all students, or get rid of the rules,
especially holding to such requirements as a 2.0 grade point average to
graduate. "He was always concerned with the direction of the college,"'
Grooms said, and often he would be overridden.
Lowenstein said Davis would remain rigid on standards despite a petition
from a student with a 1.98 or a 1.99 average and extenuating circumstances
which might justify waiving the graduation requirement. "Buddy would make an
impassioned speech about standards and get vehement, or as he would say, 've-
HE-ment.' and really get angry. It was like he was guarding the gate.""
Bob Haiman, former executive editor of the St. Petebur ime
remembered Davis telling him, just before graduation, that he could not
approve him for graduation because Haiman hadn't taken his reporting class.
Haiman said Davis called him into the office and said he'd noticed a classified
ad Haiman had run in the Florida Press Association newsletter saying he was
trained to write news and advertising copy. Haiman vividly recalls the
encounter, though Davis does not. Haiman recounted:
He fixed a beady eye on me and said, 'Son: you are NOT trained
to write news copy because you have not taken my basic reporting
course. Therefore, I have to tell you that I am going to vote
against you being granted a journalism degree. .. Nothing
personal, but I have to do it."
In the longrun, Davis told him, it would make no difference, because he
would graduate anyway. Still, Haiman said, Davis stuck to principle. Haiman
later became president and managing director of The Poynter Institute for
Media Studies in St. Petersburg. He said Davis wrote him a note some years
later saying maybe he'd been wrong and congratulating him for his
Given his record then, Davis said it should have been no surprise that he
never served on a tenure committee or a promotion committee. He once
challenged being paired with his teaching colleague Mickie Edwardson on salary
range on grounds he had credentials she did not have. He said his designation
as Distinguished Service Professor May 31, 1977, effectively ended the matter--
an honor also accorded Edwardson some years later."
By the start of the 1984-85 academic year, the year Davis retired from
teaching, his rank had boosted his salary from $40,017 to $44,844." A message
from Lowenstein in late July noted that "we wanted to make certain that our
Distinguished Service Professor was still the highest paid faculty member in this
Davis credited that promotion to Lowenstein's initiative, though others
spoke on his behalf, including Cunningham. Interestingly enough, Lowenstein
said, even though Davis had a lot riding on the honor, he wrote a scathing
editorial mentioning University of Florida President Robert Q. Marston by
name, and it was Marston who ultimately had to sign the official papers.
"Well," Lowenstein said, "Marston signed it. And that said something good
about both of them."'
1. Report by the Committee on Student Academic Freedom, 13 April 1967;
Gary Williams, 'Three Editors of U. of F. Newspaper Fired," St. Petersbure
imes. 31 March 1966, sec. B, pp. 1, 9.
2. Report by the Committee on Student Academic Freedom.
3. Davis interview, 10 September 1987.
4. "Editor Cason Fired; Moor Named Head," The Florida Alligator. 30 March
1966, p. 1.
5. Davis interview, 10 September 1987; "The Case of the Fired Editor,"
Daytona Beach Morning Journal. 15 April 1966, p. 4; Williams, 'Three Editors,"
sec. B, pp. 1, 9.
6. Davis interview, 10 September 1987; Report by the Committee on Student
7. Clif Cormier, "Reitz Completes Alligator Shakeup," Gainesville Sun 31 March
1966, p. 1; Williams, "Three Editors of U. of F. Newspaper Fired," sec. B, pp. 1,
8. 'Two Questions from Gainesville," St. Petersburg Times 1 April 1966, sec.
A, p. 12; "Muzzling the Alligator," Tampa Tribune. 1 April 1966, sec. B, p. 8;
'The Case of the Fired Editor," p. 8; "Out of Character," Gainesville Sun, 1
April 1966, p. 4.
9. Williams, "Three Editors," sec. B, pp. 1, 9; "The Case of the Fired Editor,"
10. J. Wayne Reitz, Copy of press release, 6 April 1966; Horance G. (Buddy)
Davis, Gainesville, Florida, to J. Wayne Reitz, Gainesville, Florida, 4 April
1966, TLS, Davis personal files.
11. Davis letter to Reitz; Horance G. (Buddy) Davis, Gainesville, Florida, to
Raymond L. Spangler, Redwood City, California, 11 April 1966, TLS; R. L.
Spangler, Redwood City, California, to Russell E. Hurst, Chicago, Illinois, 13
April 1966, TLS, all in Davis personal files.
12. Horance G. Davis, Gainesville, Florida, to Raymond L Spangler, Redwood
City, California, 25 April 1966, TLS, Davis personal files.
13. Horance G. Davis, "Schools Must Force-Feed Culture to Their Students,"
28 April 1988, sec. A, p. 9; Davis letter to Spangler, 25 April 1966.
14. Davis letter to Spangler 25 April 1966; Reitz press release; Board of
Student Publications, Partial copy of policies adopted 20 May 1966, all in Davis
15. Horance G. Davis, "ACLU Provides Aid for Underdogs," Gainesville Sun.
22 September 1988, sec. A, p. 10.
17. Horance G. Davis, "School Cafeterias Are Safe for Now," Gainesville Sun.
24 January 1988, sec. G, p. 3; Report by the Committee on Student Academic
18. Davis letter to Reitz.
19. Buddy Davis, Gainesville, Florida, to Dozier Cade, Atlanta Georgia, 22
May 1966, TLS; Buddy Davis, Gainesville, Florida, Chip Block, Gainesville,
Florida, 15 June 1966, TLS; all in Davis personal files.
20. Davis letter to Block.
21. Davis, "School Cafeterias," sec. G, p. 3.
22. Deborah Karen Crossley, "Hugh Wilson Cunningham: Teacher, Journalist,
Public Information Officer" (thesis, University of Florida, 1987); Bruce Kuehn,
"O'Connell Opts for Alligator Independence by January 1972," The Florida
Aligator. 25 September 1972, sec. A, p. 1.
23. Davis, "School Cafeterias," sec. G, p. 3.
25. Azula, "A College Traces," 9.
26. Davis interview, 17 October 1989; Cunningham interview, 18 December
27. Horance G. Davis, Gainesville, Florida, to John Paul Jones, Gainesville,
Florida, 2 February 1971, TLS, Davis personal files.
28. Ibid.; Davis interview 17 October 1989.
30. John Paul Jones, Gainesville, Florida, Memo to faculty about journalism
department chairmanship, 10 February 1971; attached list of faculty signatures
in support of John Webb, Davis personal files.
31. Crossley, "Hugh Cunningham," p. 87; Cunningham interview, 18 December
32. Patrick Edwards, "Four Department Heads Named," Communicator 22, no.
1 (Fall 1972): 1.
33. 'They Teach," The Florida Alligator, 28 May 1965, p. 4.
34. Chance interview, 11 January 1988.
35. Jim Moorhead, "Old Ties Renewed, Enjoyed," St. Petersburg Independent,
17 January 1981, sec. B, p. 1.
36. Weimer interview, 9 August 1988.
37. Cunningham interview, 18 December 1987.
38. Hank Conner, interview by author, 18 March 1988, Gainesville, Florida.
39. Cunningham interview, 18 December 1987.
40. Davis interview, 15 October 1987.
41. Davis interview, 25 November 1987.
42. Cunningham interview, 18 December 1988.
44. Davis interview, 25 November 1987.
45. Davis interview, 27 October 1989.
46. Jones interview, 2 March 1990.
47. Davis interviews, 17 October 1987 and 3 September 1987.
48. Davis interviews, 25 November 1987 and 27 October 1989.
49. Jones interview, 2 March 1990.
51. Weimer interview, 9 August 1988; Charlie Wellborn, interview by author,
10 August 1988, Gainesville, Florida.
52. Chance, "Davis Writes," 11.
53. Cunningham interview, 18 December 1987.
54. Lowenstein interview, 30 June 1989; Don Grooms, interview by author, 17
March 1988, Gainesville, Florida.
56. Ibid. Lowenstein
57. Bob Haiman, Letter of tribute to Buddy Davis upon retirement, bound
volume, 1985, Davis personal files.
59. Davis interview, 17 October 1989.
60. Horance G. Davis, 1984-85 State University System employment contract,
31 July 1984.
61. Ralph Lowenstein, Gainesville, Florida, to Horance G. Davis, Jr.,
Gainesville, Florida, 30 July 1984, Davis personnel file, College of Journalism
and Communications, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.
62. Lowenstein interview, 30 June 1989.
ISSUES IN EDUCATION
University administrators regularly felt the sting of Gainesville Sun
editorials during the years Davis wrote, but few of those issues had more far-
reaching effects than his long-term campaign in support of the state's
Government-in-the Sunshine law.
His persistent attempts to defeat secrecy in government played a role not
only in bringing about enactment of the law in 1967 but in reinforcing the open
selection process of administrators on campus.
Davis began applying editorial pressure in support of open government
meetings in the early 1960s.' Florida, at that time, had laws permitting public
inspection of records, but nothing requiring open meetings of public bodies.
Although Davis terms his role minor, as "one of the midwives'" who helped get
the idea going, he was one of a small group of individuals who initially
approached state Sen. J. Emory "Red" Cross with a model open meetings law
circulated by the Society of Professional Journalists. After a succession of
defeats, Cross finally steered a successful bill through the Legislature in 1967,
In the years after its passage, Davis editorialized repeatedly against
political tactics used to conceal the public's business. He came down on
administrators for trying to evade the law and he led the fight to keep
university records open.' An extended article he wrote for the Miami Herald
Tropic magazine in 1975, gave a rundown on challenges to the law statewide
and opinions which broadened it.'
Davis rejected as "utterly repelling"6 the notion that the best candidates are
discouraged from applying for university administrative positions through an
open selection process. He also took the state university system to task for
trying to bypass the law in the selection of university presidents.' He was
doubly surprised in 1976 when his own college began selecting a new journalism
dean in secrecy."
Although the committee was operating under guidelines set down by
University President Robert O. Marston's policy for search committees, Davis
protested to his colleagues, ... it seems untenable to me that mass
communication educators, who teach against governmental secrecy as a cardinal
principle, conduct their own affairs secretly."' Davis thought Marston had
incorrectly interpreted the law's ambiguity. Not content to let the issue go by,
he wrote Atty. Gen. Robert Shevin, who declared the committee should abide
by an open door policy, which they ultimately did in selecting Ralph Lowenstein
as dean of the College of Journalism and Communications. Lowenstein, Davis
noted, was "a nationally recognized journalism educator screened in
Open dean searches evolved statewide through a progression of events
which peaked over an identical issue in 1980 when the University of Florida
law school also began secretly screening candidates for dean.
Davis came down hard on Marston and Vice President Robert Bryan in an
editorial "Popping-To at Bootcamp U," criticizing "their Marine bootcamp
tactics" and "edict" for secrecy." Although the university went to court seeking
an exemption from the Sunshine Law, two law students, Tom Julin and Terri
Wood, and Campus Communications Inc. filed suit and ultimately won on
grounds that dean search committees were subject to the Sunshine Law. Julin
credited Davis with supplying many of the editorial arguments he used in court
briefs to successfully contest the case."
Davis later reflected on the irony that "the Sunshine Law's most persistent
and conspicuous adversary" had been the University of Florida, "on whose
campus the law was conceived 25 years ago.""
Other issues also prompted administrators to complain bitterly about the
Sin's editorial burrs. In an April 1974 editorial, Davis termed the problem of
enrollment padding a "scandal in the educational system," warning of "deceit in
high places," and chiding the chancellor of the university system and a host of
other administrators for their "descreet silence.'"
The editorial provoked complaints accusing the Sun of engaging in
character assassination and factual distortions and suggesting wrongdoing
without proof.6 Interim University President E.T. York Jr. complained to Sun
company management, and Bill Minshall of Gainesville's WCJB-TV questioned,
in an on-air commentary, what Davis had been doing while all his "'scandalous'
colleagues" were busy "padding on the downstairs couch.""
Davis regarded the administration's approach as a media campaign of
denial and defended the editorial, reasoning that if the university was taking
steps to correct "flaws in the system," he said, the problem must have existed.'
Gainesville Sun editorials often dealt with higher education issues, and a
number of stands elicited thanks from administrators, especially editorials
confronting problems of the state university system." One issue which provoked
controversy, however, concerned the newspaper's stand on unionism.
The Sun had won numerous Florida School Bell awards for editorials on
educational issues over the years, but a 1976 editorial questioning union motives
in organizing the state's college teachers apparently figured in a decision by
Florida Education Association--United to withdraw the 1975 Florida School Bell
award the newspaper had expected."
Davis had been notified he was to win the award and was making plans to
attend the ceremony in Orlando when an FEA-United official called him with
the news that due to a "communications mixup" the awards announcement had
been "premature."" The newspaper reported that it had been made clear "some
of the Sun's editorials did not reflect the views of the union.'
The observation, however, was an understatement. In a March 29, 1976,
editorial Davis had spared few words in debunking the motives of the union
and its demands by predicting that "unionization will be a great experience for
the Florida university system, like being swallowed by a whale.""
Davis regretted the rise of unionism among American universities,
especially in his home state, where United Faculty of Florida, an FEA-United
affiliate, had won the right to represent professors in collective bargaining. UFF
was also affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-
CIO.' He blamed the union's emergence on "administrative blunders and
legislative neglect" and defended Florida's constitutional provision for right to
work, holding to the view, he said, "that individual merit usually draws its own
Taking a stand on such issues often made Davis vulnerable to in-house
criticism and, on occasion, accusations of conflict of interest. Although the
university recognized the benefit of some types of outside employment, official
policy prohibited dual employment that interfered with regular full-time work.
To protect himself, Davis was careful to keep both careers separate--at least on
paper. He logged all his hours and kept written communications whenever
Journalism deans Ralph Lowenstein and Rae Weimer insist the Sun's
editorial stands did not make academic politics difficult for them as
administrators. Lowenstein said when people were mad at Davis editorials, they
would sometimes complain he was writing on the university's time, which was a
"complete canard," he said, because Davis was putting in more time than just
about any teacher. "Some people would ask, 'When are you going to fire
Buddy Davis?'" Lowenstein recalled. "But I would say, 'Look, that's what he
does on his own time. He's the best teacher on the faculty."'"
Just as administrators absorbed their share of editorial criticism, they also
benefited from the Sun's editorial support. Davis said the advantage of writing
editorials and working for the university was "you get people's attention,"" but
writing and teaching also gave him a perspective on the problems of the
university. His commentaries often show appreciation for the institution and its
place in the community."
Davis wrote and taught, though, during an age of rebellion and his work
must be viewed in that context. He reached his peak years of productivity in
the midst of racial unrest, war protest, and student uprisings on campuses across
the country. At the local level, those political currents began to emerge early
in the 1960s.
1. Horance G. Davis, "Florida's Sunshine Law Showed Its First Rays of Hope
at UF," Gainesville Sun 18 December 1983, sec. C, p. 3; Weimer interview, 9
2. Davis, "Florida's Sunshine," sec. C, p. 3.
4. [Horance G. Davis], "Inside the Tent," Gainesville Sun 27 November 1973,
sec. A, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis], "The Sun Also Rises," Gainesville Sun. 16
April 1974, sec. A., p. 4.
5. Horance G. Davis, "Let the Sunshine In," Miami Herald Tropic 23, no. 9
(December 1975): 4-7.
6. [Horance G. Davis), "Rape of Reason," Gainesville Sun. 16 August 1976,
sec. A, p. 4.
8. Davis, "Law Showed First Ray," sec. C, p. 3.; Jean Chance, Memo on Search
Committee to journalism department faculty, 8 March , Davis personal
9. Ken Christiansen, Memo to Buddy Davis on Search and Screen Committee
operation guidelines, 9 March 1976; Horance G. Davis, Jr., Gainesville, Florida,
to Kenneth Christiansen, Gainesville, Florida, 8 March 1976, TLS, Davis
10. Horance G. Davis, Jr., Gainesville, Florida, to Robert Shevin, Tallahassee,
Florida, 9 March 1976, TLS; Robert L Shevin, Tallahassee, Florida, to Horance
G. Davis, Jr., Gainesville, Florida, 1 April 1976, TLS, Davis personal files.
11. [Horance G. Davis], "Popping-To at Bootcamp U," Gainesville Sun 5 April
1980, sec. A, p. 4.
12. Wood v. Marston, 442 So. 2d 934 (Fla. 1983).
13. Davis interview, 7 October 1987.
14. Davis, "Law Showed First Rays," sec. C, p. 3.
15. [Horance G. Davis], "The Brass Turns," Gainesville Sun 18 April 1974, sec.
A, p. 4,
16. Joseph H. Stafford, "Set the Record Straight," 28 April 1974, Gainesville
Su, sec. A, p. 5; W. E. Minshall, Transcript of editorial aired on "6 O'Clock
Report" and "11 O'Clock Report," 19 April 1974, WCJB-TV, Gainesville,
Florida, Davis personal files.
17. E. T. York, Jr., Gainesville, Florida, to John R. Harrison, Lakeland,
Florida, 26 April 1974, TLS; Minshall, editorial comment, 19 April 1974.
18. [Horance G. Davis], "Muddy Waters," Gainesville Sun 1 May 1974, sec. A,
p. 4.; [Horance G. Davis], "Dr. York's Year," Gainesville Sun, 7 August 1974,
sec. A, p. 4.
19. E. T. York, Gainesville, Florida, to Horance G. "Buddy" Davis, Gainesville,
Florida, 18 December 1980; E. T. York, Gainesville, Florida, to H. G. "Buddy"
Davis, Gainesville, Florida, 12 June 1980, TLS; Stephen O'Connell, Gainesville,
Florida, to H. G. Davis, Jr., 4 April 1969, TLS; all in Davis personal files.
20. Clif Cormier, 'Teachers' Union Withdraws Award," Gainesville Sun. 27
March 1976, sec. A, p. 6.
23. [Horance G. Davis], "Katie Bar the Door," Gainesville Sun. 9 March 1976,
sec. A, p. 4.
24. [Horance G. Davis], "Defiling the Temple," Gainesville Sun. 3 July 1973,
sec. A, p. 4; Cormier, "Union Withdraws," sec. A, p. 6.
25. [Davis], "Labor Reshuffle," sec. A, p. 4.
26. Horance G. Davis, 1977-78 Request for permission to accept outside
employment, University of Florida, 14 October 1977; Horance G. Davis, 1979-
80 Report of outside employment, University of Florida, 28 September 1979,
Davis personal files.
27. Lowenstein interview, 30 June 1989; Weimer interview, 9 August 1988.
28. Davis interview, 30 July 1987.
29. [Horance G. Davis], "In Search of Blame," Gainesville Sun 13 October
1973, sec. A, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis], The Ninth Sister," Gainesville Sun 5
December 1973, sec. A, p. 4.
A NEW BREED OF ACTIVIST
Gainesville had been a community undergoing considerable change when
Davis began writing for the Sun in the fall of 1962. City elections in 1961 and
1963 had seated progressives on the City Commission and set in motion "new
political currents,"' as the SL had predicted.'
The changes, however, ran much deeper. As Davis later wrote, the
election of 1963 brought a virtual revolution in city politics, due primarily to
repeal of the Miller memo at the University of Florida, which had freed
personnel to engage in politics and run for office. The "Old Guard" political
structure dominated by business and commercial interests had given way to a
new breed of activists on the City Commission. Davis commented on the
change in a 1964 letter to Miami-Herald managing editor George Beebe:
It is a city-in-transition, with the power structure radically
changing .. a cowtown turning into a city. I'll not argue cause-
and-effect, but factors include population growth, enlargement of
city limits, loosening of Board of Control restrictions on University
personnel running for office, a "Young Turk" revolution in City
Hall, and the publication of a "new" Gainesville Sun.3
"It was a highly reactive process,"' recalled former Sun editor Ed Johnson.
The development of the community was taking place concurrent with social and
political trends sweeping the state and nation during the 1960s. At the local
level, he said, Cowles management viewed the newspaper as an integral part of
the developing community.'
Johnson and Davis thought little of the overall quality of the hometown
paper.6 Davis regarded the newspaper under the Peppers as a conservative,
non-aggressive newspaper "aligned with the country club, the doctors, the
lawyers." Most of the editorials were canned, he recalled, with "nothing on
Under Cowles, however, the newspaper completely changed its orientation.
Davis mirrored the times in his philosophical commitment to political and social
reform. He was a Democrat with a decided liberal stance on the issues, often
along partisan Democratic lines. Johnson said the newspaper quickly
established a more "vigorous and meaningful"' editorial policy and, in his view,
gained respect in two to three years, largely because of Davis.
Most notable of the Sul's initial policy changes were its editorial stands in
support of integration and land use restrictions. "Without really thinking, we
completely switched any view about race, and that caused a lot of stir," Davis
recalled. "We lost a lot of subscriptions."' He considered it a mark of editorial
integrity that despite cancellations, particularly in the rural areas, Sun
management backed his editorials and kept from him figures on the latest drops
Davis began increasing his editorial output in 1967-68 out of frustration
over the Vietnam War. He had wanted to begin writing about national and
international topics and still retain credibility with local editorials, and that, he
said, meant increasing his workload. The job became much easier when he
built a new home in 1967 with work space and room for his files. "With the
aid and support of editor Ed Johnson, I began turning out right at 100 percent
of the editorials ,"" he wrote. Johnson rejected "only a handful a year,""
In setting editorial policy, Johnson said he and Davis worked from simple
statements of principle rather than specifics. They talked mostly by phone.
With Davis working at home, they rarely met for conferences." "I would take a
position on an issue and Ed printed it 99 percent of the time," Davis said.
'That indicated he approved. It was up to me to apply current events to that.""
Davis said he and Johnson would meet when there was trouble or to discuss
presidential endorsements. "We met with Carter and Humphrey, and in later
years, he cranked me in on all local endorsements, or when somebody wanted
Davis enjoyed a warm relationship with Johnson, who had been his student
in the 1950s. Johnson had been former assistant Sunday editor of the Tampa
Tribune before joining the Sun as executive editor in December 1962." Davis
said Johnson made the work possible and rewarding because he absorbed the
flack from readers and soothed their concerns. Johnson also gave him leeway
Unlike some monopoly publishers, Cowles had a reputation for allowing its
newspapers to operate independently rather than imposing editorial policy on
them." New York Times Media Inc. adopted a similar policy when it
purchased the Sun in 1972. As a result, Johnson and Davis enjoyed virtual
autonomy in formulating editorial policy. Davis explained the relationship in a
1973 letter to John Hohenberg, secretary of the Pulitzer Prize Advisory Board,
who was compiling a book about the prize:
Some kind things must be said about newspaper management like
Cowles Communications and the New York Times for permitting
people like Ed Johnson and me to function freely, to evaluate
what we deem best for our community however blows the wind of
public sentiment, to be tolerant of our errors and comforting in
our adversities. I am under no illusion that we can drive the
publication into the ground and leave it a profitless hull. But I
can say that, generally speaking, Cowles Communications and the
New York Times have demonstrated the courage of my
convictions. That is saying a great deal."
This managerial hands-off approach was evident in the 1976 U. S.
presidential campaign. Davis noted in December of that year that of nine of
the thirteen newspapers in the group, six endorsed Gerald Ford, and three,
including the Sun endorsed Carter, as did The Times.a
Nor did Ti.ms management resist when Davis disclosed in a Sui editorial
on January 28 of that year that one of the candidates seeking a seat on the
Public Service Commission was Katie Nichols, sister-in-law to John R. Harrison,
president of ten Florida newspapers affiliated with New York Times Media Inc.
Davis predicted she would not get the coordinated support of the newspaper
group." His willingness to openly assess this in-house "family" connection, drew
praise from Nelson Poynter, publisher of the St, Petersburg Times. Eugene C.
Patterson, then editor and president of the Times. and John A. Tucker, vice
president of operations of the Florida Times-Union and Jacksonville Journal.
Davis said he and Johnson tried to maintain a low profile in the
community because they believed the public was interested primarily in news
and opinion." Some readers complained about the individual who hid under
the cloak of editorial anonymity and refused to sign his name, but Johnson
typically affirmed that the editorial was "an expression of the opinion of the
editorial page staff or management" and signing such commentary did not
constitute "standard journalistic practice."" In his view, Davis had been
identified appropriately in news columns when he received journalistic honors.
Davis seldom went to meetings. He got out of Jaycees in the mid-1950s,
restricting his membership in organizations to journalism professional societies.
He limited his interaction in the community, in part, he said, because it would
have "shaded or weakened" his writing. "One reason is lack of time," he
reasoned. 'The other is the dislike of being bought off by friendships and
social pressures." He welcomed information from many sources, but he refused
to hobnob with the rich or influential or to accept as criticism the suggestion
that he could have improved his perceptions by expanding his associations. "If
they're your buddies, it's harder to be critical," he said. "You just don't stay on
people's backs and make friends." He turned down invitations to cocktail
parties rather than risk being insulted for his editorial stands. Besides, he said,
he was not a social talker. He preferred good conversation over a beer and
pizza to coat-and-tie affairs. Such insularity contributed to his ivory tower
image and made writing, he said, "a rather bloodless operation." On a more
personal level, his lifestyle was not without sacrifice. Writing, he observed, was
a "very individual pursuit. You can't read in a group. You can't write in a
group. I don't have close friends," he confessed. "It's been a fairly lonely
His work schedule on weekdays became routine. Usually he would come
in from school, eat, retire to his study to research an idea, then spend two to
three hours writing.' The study faced a wooded back lot, which provided a
serene and tranquil setting for work.
Davis kept a detailed filing system of all his editorials, noting the days he
submitted them and the days they ran. He pasted all editorial clips to the back
of the original hard copy, usually typed on 11 1/2 x 14 inch paper of three to
four pages. To that he attached any related clippings, letters to the editor, or
memos, or replies he wrote. He often scribbled his own off-the-cuff remarks on
letters to the editor clippings and underlined in red, sentences he thought
significant or wanted to comment on in future editorials. Corrections or
clarifications generally appeared in follow-up editorials.
For ready reference, he maintained summarized inventories of all editorials
with precise mention of major points he covered. He also frequently wrote in
his own assessment of the editorial, noting which editorials he thought were
good or fact-laden or damning, and which drew response and why. With local
editorials, he learned to let some issues mellow rather than risk using
information from faulty stories which occasionally generated repercussions."
Rarely did he conduct interviews for editorials." What he could not piece
together from clippings, he acquired from other sources--a common technique
used by opinion writers, but a technique which, nevertheless, subjected him to
criticism that he failed to get his facts straight or do enough personal
investigation before writing. "Whether that was pursued to a fault--could be,"
Johnson surmised, "but that's what you do as an editorial writer." On the
other hand, Davis, he said, "could write an excellent editorial on a four-inch
Davis resisted the idea of rewriting the news. A generalist, he performed
the function of an editorial writer by absorbing news from many sources, then
comparing, analyzing, tying together and interpreting disparate bits of
information. A strength of his writing lay in his ability to spot trends and
speculate on the underlying forces that influence daily life, whether economic,
political, or philosophical. He delighted, for instance, in intricately tracing the
complex maneuverings of Jacksonville financier Ed Ball, administrator of the
DuPont Estate and board chairman of the Florida East Coast Railway.
Davis wrote periodically for years about Ball and his impact on the state's
business and political life. The DuPont Estate, he noted, "had the foresight 50
years ago to buy up three percent of Florida's land area when the scrub oak
country was dirt cheap," and Ball, he said, had the most influence in shaping
the Second Congressional District, which included rural Alachua County." Ball,
he once observed, "has conquered more of Florida than the Spanish ever did.""'
One incident, in particular, which reflected Ball's influence, solidified Davis's
respect for newspaper management.
The controversy centered on an editorial, "DuPont Muscle in Action,"
which created problems in 1967 for another Cowles' newspaper, the Lakeland
edger The editorial, written by Davis, had attacked an alliance, detailed in
the Miami-Herald. between Ball and Florida Gov. Claude Kirk in support of
branch banking. According to correspondence from Jack Harrison, then
president of Florida/Cowles Newspapers, Richard E. Ehlis, president of the
Florida National Bank at Lakeland, had taken offense to the editorial and
visited Harrison for an hour at the Ledge to complain.2
"The important thing is that Ball managed a trust which owned, among
other things, thirty banks of the Florida National chain," Davis said. "As a
general run, Florida newspapers treated him with great reverence. The Sun's
realistic approach must have been a shock,"" he surmised. Harrison considered
the editorial "superb" and told Davis he was "proud to defend it.""
Despite Harrison's editorial reassurance, however, the bank subsequently
withdrew a weekly full page ad for more than a year to protest editorial
policies it said were "not beneficial to the community."" When the bank
resumed advertising in March 1969, Ehlis advised readers in a paid ad, "We
hope we have made our point and are ready to give them a second chance."'
Davis had no idea what had happened. As he recalled years later, 'To
uphold editorial integrity, the Ledger must have lost $25,000 to $50,000 in
revenue--and hadn't said a damn word to the fellow who had caused it,""
Encounters with management, however, also proved rocky, Davis recalled.
"Over the years, I knocked it off once or twice over matters of principle, which
I wish every editorial writer could do, because we'd have better editorials,"" he
He never relied on his income from writing as part of his family's support.
"It made me a freer soul not having to depend on it," he said. Instead, he used
the money to buy stock in the company."
He quit once in a dispute over state taxation. Davis had been
editorializing heavily against a state sales tax in favor of a corporate profits tax.
"Old Gardner Cowles thought I was anti-business," he recalled. "Harrison called
me in and said 'Mike Cowles thinks we're too anti-business.' I said, 'Jack, you
married into the business, but I didn't.' I don't know how long I stayed off.""
He quit a second time in another dispute over an editorial in which he
attributed a bigoted remark made during a 1964 city primary to an election
official. Nine days after the editorial appeared, the Sun published a retraction
offering an apology and noting that the editorial writer had been
Davis was incensed because he said he had more faith in what he wrote
than the Sun's attorneys. "It was the lawyers chickening out," he said. "It was
a mantle of honor--them taking someone else's word over mine.""
During one period of estrangement in the mid-1960s, Harrison started
writing editorials. "While I was mad and not writing, Jack Harrison won the
Pulitzer Prize,'"' Davis recalled.
He never stayed away for long, though. Writing gave him an outlet, he
said, for his "periodic outrage." Besides, he "worked cheap," he said, and was
an aggressive editorial writer, which appealed to management." To understand
that is to understand, in part, why he generated such vocal response from
readers. It was a matter of philosophy, technique, and style.
1. "A new force in city," Gainesville Sun. 5 April 1961, p. 4.
2. Davis interview, 9 June 1988; [Horance G. Davis], "Repair Job," Gainesville
Sun. 28 December 1973, sec. A, p. 4.
3. Buddy Davis, Gainesville, Florida, to George Beebe, Miami, Florida, typed
4. Ed Johnson, interview by author, 30 July 1988, Gainesville, Florida.
6. Ibid.; Davis interview, 15 October 1987.
7. Davis interviews, 15 October 1987 and 9 June 1988.
8. Johnson interview, 30 July 1988.
9. Davis interview, 9 June 1988.
11. Davis letter to Hohenberg.
13. Johnson interview, 30 July 1988.
14. Davis interview, 21 September 1988.
15. Davis interview, 15 October 1987.
16. "Award-Winning Editor Named to Sun Staff," Gainesville Sun. 17 December
1962, p. 1.
17. Davis interviews, 7 August 1987 and 3 September 1987.
18. Furlong, William Barry, "The Midwest's Nice Monopolists John and Mike
Cowles," Harper's Magazine 226, no. 1357 (June 1963): 64-75.
19. Davis letter to Hohenberg.
20. [Horance G. Davis], "Free Wheeling," Gainesville Sun. 16 December 1976,
sec. A, p. 4.
21. [Horance G. Davis], "Airing the Linen," Gainesville Sun. 28 January 1976,
sec. A, p. 4.
22. Nelson Poynter, to Jack [Harrison], 2 February 1976; Eugene C. Patterson,
St. Petersburg, Florida, to John R. Harrison, Lakeland, Florida, TLS, 11
February 1976; John A. Tucker, Jacksonville, to John R. Harrison, New York,
New York, TLS, 3 February 1976.
23. Davis letter to Hohenberg.
24. [Horance G. Davis], 'The Faith Healers," Gainesville Sun 14 November
1973, sec. A, p. 4.; [Horance G. Davis], "Filthy Pictures," Gainesville Sun. 3
November 1973, sec. A, p. 4.
25. Davis letter to Hohenberg; Davis interviews, 8 August 1987, 1 June 1988, and
21 September 1988.
26. Buddy Davis, interview by author, 21 September 1988, Gainesville, Florida.
27. Ibid.; Davis talk to author's reporting lab, 1 December 1987.
28. Davis interview, 21 September 1988.
29. Johnson interview, 30 July 1988.
30. [Horance G. Davis], "Don Fuqua: I "His District," Gainesville Sun. 20 July
1974, sec. A, p. 4.
31. [Horance G. Davis], "High Ball Express," Gainesville Sun, 26 July 1975, sec.
A, p. 4.
32. John R. Harrison, Lakeland, Florida, to H.G. "Buddy" Davis, Gainesville,
Florida, TLS, 5 June 1967, Davis personal files.
33. Buddy Davis, memo to author, 2 August 1987.
34. Harrison letter to Davis.
35. Richard E. Ehlis, Lakeland, Florida, to readers of the Lakeland Ledger.
TLS advertisement in the Ledger 30 March 1969, sec. D, p. 3.
37. Davis memo to author, 2 August 1987.
38. Davis letter to Hohenberg.
39. Davis interview, 10 September 1987.
40. Davis interview, 15 October 1987.
41. "Editorial correction," Gainesville Sun, 5 July 1964, sec. A, p. 6.
42. Davis interview, 15 October 1987.
44. Horance G. Davis, Gainesville, copy of letter to R. B. Resnik, Longboat Key,
Florida, 2 July 1989, TLS, Davis personal files; Davis interview, 15 October 1987.
AN EDITORIALIST STANCE
In the Miami Herald's weekend magazine "Tropic," Sunday, March 8, 1981,
appeared the following heading under the title "Al Bun's Florida": "No Friend of
the Diddly Squats--Buddy Davis is a nice guy who hates everything." Burt began:
After the 1980 legislative session, Horance G. Davis, Jr., sat
down to his video terminal and tapped out: 'The Queegs,
Bocephuses and Diddly Squats of the Florida Legislature have
disbanded and broken for the county line, praise God.
"It was a harrowing 65 days marred by backbiting, near
fisticuffs, blackmail, hostage holding, bossism and posturing--and if
the interests of the State of Florida were advanced, it was sheerly
Davis writes that way, as though seared Sacred Cow were his
favorite dish. He masks tedious research with flip irreverence. He
has a wonderful knack, for an editorial writer, of being both
frequently irritating and frequently right. It assures him, and the
Gainesville Sun. which employs him, a continuing mess of trouble.'
Burt probably comes closest to seeing Davis, the editorialist, the way Davis
sees himself. "He views the editorialist as a catalyst, a discordant piper who enjoys
confusing the lockstep harmony of the pompous,'" Burt wrote. Or, to borrow a
phrase Davis once assigned to abolitionist editor William Lloyd Garrison: "His sole
unerring aim was to stick a burr under society's rear end."3
Davis approached editorial writing in much the same way he taught class-
to provoke a reaction. He believed in giving readers more on the editorial page
than "mild pablum for public consumption."' Newspapers should be leaders, he
said, not followers. Editorials should offer clear direction and serious, thoughtful
solutions to problems. They should be "interesting, fun, punchy,"5 written vigorously
without equivocation. 'Tell it like it is," he said. "Don't sugar-coat anything.' In
a 1978 article in The Masthead. a publication of the National Conference of
Editorial Writers, he sharply criticized editors for justifying their irresolute stands:
Newspapers can rationalize those erudite tomes which generally
run last on reader interest surveys. After all, they want to "deal with
the issues, not personalities." They want to "reach the power
structure, not titillate." As for fence straddling, that is "stimulating
the public dialogue" or "full consideration of all facets of the
Effective editorials with concrete solutions carefully avoid vague appeals to "do
good" or to appoint committees to "study" proposals. After all, he wrote, "We
want a bill passed, a federal grant requested, a traffic light installed."'
Davis, above all, viewed the editorialist as an activist willing to challenge
standards of conformity--a "lightning rod" who induces change by guiding opinion
and stirring the public conscience.' Editors have a responsibility as interpreters of
the news to analyze events, he said, and to identify the underlying economic and
political forces which shape a community and influence its citizens." A good idea
will win out in open and free debate, he reasoned. Newspapers need only provide,
on their opinion pages, a proper forum for ideas to flourish."
Davis refined his editorial approach over the years by combining some of the
techniques of persuasive writing he learned in college with theories of readership
and audience psychology he taught in class and found most effective.
To be read, he said, an editorial must first attract attention. Davis generally
tried for a provocative beginning, often an anecdote, joke, or trenchant one-liner.
Angry over a zoning decision he viewed as contrary to the public interest, he
began: "Zoning in Alachua County is uncomfortably like crapshooting under a
blanket, with the public losing its stakes without even a glance at the dice.""2 In
October of 1973, upon learning the Nobel Peace Prize would be shared by U.S.
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and adversary Le Due Tho of North Vietnam,
Davis tersely observed: "The Norwegians have just told us Americans that, with
all due respect, God is not registered in our precinct.""
Davis generally featurized leads. Author Harry Stonecipher, in his textbook,
Editorial and Persuasive Writing cited Davis for the vigor and clarity of his writing
and his effective use of both the narrative lead and historical analogy in two of
the Pulitzer-Prize winning editorials published in 1971 (see appendix)."
To sustain reader interest, Davis relied on a mix of editorials he variously
labeled the "action editorial," the "goodie-goodie," the "Deer Peepul," and the
"posture" editorial. The opinion writer, he said, should aim for a desirable blend
of editorials and at least once a week should produce an action editorial which
poses a problem, offers a solution, and names someone to act. That means, he
said, presenting enough pertinent facts to explain the problem and "set the reader
on his ear."" By naming a target to act, "Don't cite the Chamber of Commerce,"
he wrote, "cite the Chamber president. Don't cite the entire state legislative
delegation, cite the local legislator on the appropriate committee."6
Readers, he believed, were convinced by facts. In 1970, while doing
consulting work for WJXT-TV in Jacksonville, Davis advised the editorial staff:
Nobody cares that WJXT wants a crime commission. But they
can be moved to action if you consistently document the crime rate
in every fashion possible .. and you show how crime commissions
worked in other cities."
To press his point, Davis used a persuasive technique which Stonecipher refers
to as "arguing in a straight line"--presenting a structured argument of facts to
support a particular point of view." His adherence to that technique sometimes
left him open to accusations of dogmatism and bias, as the discussion in Chapter
14 suggests, but it also distinguished his work and gave force and authority to the
Davis wrote a powerful action targeted editorial November 2, 1970, which
took the tone of an impassioned plea for relief from jail overcrowding. The
editorial focused on the death of William Baugher, a young prisoner who had been
booked on a minor drug charge and then slain by a cellmate. Outraged over
conditions that led to the killing of a man who likely would have been eligible for
parole, Davis shamed officials by laying the blame on "bureaucratic bungling and
buck-passing."" Davis credits the Florida Alligator for actively pursuing the story,
but in successive editorials, the Sun also refused to let Baugher's name die by
targeting the sheriff and the County Commission until officials took action to
relieve jail conditions."
"You can't put a monkey on anybody's back without naming him," Davis said.
'The gimmick is that most public officials respond only to pressure. Given an
option, they'll pass the buck. When pin-pointed by name, they must think about
your position."2 Davis said the Sun probably gets credit for effectively using that
approach to encourage former State Rep. Ralph Turlington to lobby statewide for
a corporate income tax and to convince former State Rep. Bill Andrews to support
Florida election code reform."
Turlington was part of former Democratic Gov. Reuben Askew's "brain trust"
during the 1970s and successfully stumped the state for Askew's corporate profits
tax--a victory Davis attributes, in part, to the Suns longstanding campaign for the
tax and targeted editorials urging legislative support."
"My theory is we're journalists out here shooting darts, and once in a while
we shoot a dart that has an impact," Davis said. "Sometimes you get quick action,
and sometimes philosophies I see expressed today I wrote ten years ago. What
you have to do is lay a foundation for ideas," he said, "--a comfortable bed for
your leaders to lie in. You plant ideas year in and year out and ultimately people
begin to feel comfortable with them."'
An editorialist must write to somebody, Davis insisted. He explained his
reasoning in an interview with the authors of Voices of Change. a book of
interviews with Southern Pulitzer Prize-winners. "You just don't write blind," Davis
said. "You've got to think about who you're writing to. I don't think of them as
a faceless mask. I don't have any hope of getting a faceless mask to do
When arsonists struck during racial uprisings in Gainesville, Davis said he
tried to reach them by writing an editorial in such a way that ministers in the
black community would read it from the pulpit. "I had no idea that a hot-headed
kid would pick up the Sun and say, gee, they're addressing that to me," he said.
On the other hand, he said he thought he might be able to reach someone else
in the black community who would have an impact, someone who would say,
"now, look, you calm down, look what this arsonist did down there." That's the
way an editorialist has to think, Davis said. "You've got to write to somebody.
Just words on paper are worthless.""
Davis also believed that effective opinion writing required extending the
editorial olive branch for work well done. To offset criticism with praise, he
resorted to a series of mini-commentaries called "Darts and Laurels," popularized
by the Columbia Journalism Review. He used the dart as a critical "light tap" and
the laurel as a gesture of simple recognition."
Davis targeted legislators regularly and kept careful track of their voting
records to justify Sun political endorsements. He labeled endorsements "Deer
Peepul" editorials--strictly rhetoric" in the manner of United Fund appeals or anti-
litter campaigns. "It's probably the least effective type of editorial, but a necessity,"
he said. "It also is the most widely used--too much so."'
More often than not, he fell back on a "posture" editorial expressing faith in
an idea or individual. Many of the Sun's editorials fell into this category. Davis
The secret to this one is timing. If you discern an upcoming delicate
issue--the need for a bond issue for sewers in the black section,
restructuring of local government, a legal system injustice, a health
threat--put yourself on the right side before the matter reaches the
dispute stage. If you dally until sides are chosen and the bricks are
flying, you are merely "taking sides" in a public dispute. So claim
your turf early, based on high principle."
Davis also carried over into his writing the same personal style he
demonstrated in the classroom. He was not a detatched observer commenting on
life in general, but a participant fully engaged in an issue or debate--indignant,
amused, solemn, mocking, reflective, or philosophical in tone, as the occasion
demanded. His language was not always measured or restrained, but emotional
and titillating, peppered with exaggeration and raucous barbs. Though unsigned,
most editorials clearly revealed his characteristic phraseology and point of view.
"Because of his background, education, and early career, he thought editorials
should reach out to the common person, the almost casual reader," said former
Sun. editor Ed Johnson. "As a result, the editorials were often iconoclastic,
couched in hyperbole with the idea that wrapped inside was an important idea to
this community--this state." That style struck a direct chord with many people, but
in some circles, Johnson said, his writing was viewed as overstated.'
Readers often correctly observed that opinions expressed in the editorial
column not only reflected the voice of the newspaper, they, in fact, WERE written,
for the most part, by one person. Some demanded to know who the "communist"
was in their midst or who the "cretin" was who daily offended readers with his
"cutesy slurs."3 It was not unusual, noted writer Al Burt, "for stung Babbitts to call
his flipness sophomoric, or for stunned Crackers to read him and mutter about
communism."" Readers often took exception to the vigorous way in which the
Sun's chief editorial writer expressed his point of view. One reader, who referred
to the Sun's "language of the provocative innuendo," asked, ". with your
techniques and style, how can you not expect such vocal responses?""
Despite his insistence on the persuasiveness of facts, Davis capitalized on
emotional appeal. He knew how to arouse readers and he projected an intimate
style that reached out directly to people in a very personal way.
Davis tried to practice what he taught in class: Make editorials "pungent,
personal, and parochial" by personifying issues, localizing them, and making them
relevant to the reader. He enlivened editorials by using names, personal examples
and anecdotes, discussing issues in pocketbook terms and explaining how those
issues affected individuals.'
"He has an absolute sense of the emotional juggler," Johnson said. "He risks
vulnerability.... He holds nothing back of himself." Johnson suggests that Davis's
style of writing cannot be categorized. "Buddy is one of the last of the individual
voices."" Johnson explained:
He has a wonderful talent for imagery ... for summing an issue
with simply a statement or a story .. He almost has, as a writer,
a cartoonist's skill. Couple that with the training and talent of a
very fine investigative reporter, then you have a formidable
journalistic talent that is not classified. He's not really an
editorialist. He's not really a columnist. Traditional explanations
don't reach to cover what he's done. That's part of the uniqueness
of what he's done."
Davis could stir feelings with a eulogy to a community leader or a simple
Veterans Day tribute. "Bundle of Memories," which ran on Veterans Day,
November 11, 1976, poignantly gave face to the countless dead by evoking the
memory of one young soldier, a distant relative from rural South Georgia, who had
been killed in battle. Davis created a feeling of mood and place by recalling "the
stillness of the farmhouse sitting room and a table there, upon which was a
photograph of the youth in dimestore frame. .. ." His way of life was simple but
cherished--"a promise unfulfilled," Davis wrote. 'The world he sought to save was
a two-mule farm and a peanut harvest.""
Touching a reader's sensibilities also meant cutting through professional jargon
and euphemisms. Davis was not one to look over his shoulder while writing.
"Civility," he said, "has dulled our pens."" In general, he did not worry about
offending. He was neither timid nor evasive. Consequently, many people found
his aggressive, no-holds-barred style abrasive and excessively harsh, particularly
those stung by his criticism. Others considered his candid, upfront approach to
writing refreshing, incisive and all-too-rare a commodity for opinion pages.
Davis wrote for effect and he used all the literary devices at hand to get his
message across. As it did in class, his flair for the dramatic often made his
delivery flamboyant. To emphasize a point, he resorted to hyperbole and satire,
often with comic results. When Armand Hammer sold chemical fertilizer to the
Soviet Union, Davis reminded readers the fertilizer came from Hammer's
Occidental Chemical phosphate operation in north Florida, which was polluting the
Suwannee River. Davis observed that Hammer "has just pulled off an $8 billion
deal hailed as the biggest coup since the settlers bought Manhattan for $24 worth
of doodads." Mr. Hammer, he declared, "is selling Florida to Russia."'
To press the issue of gun control, Davis, with tongue-in-cheek, boldly
announced that the newspaper would "not object to a three-year mandatory prison
sentence for legislators who refuse to ban handguns."' He also declared that a
campaign to promote the cause of developers in Gainesville would pit "the
vehement bird-watchers against the vehement bird-killers."'
Davis earned a reputation for his epithets, sharpening his satiric pen as
columnist in later years. He once dubbed state Agricultural Commissioner Doyle
Conner, who ran unopposed for so long, "the closest thing to titled nobility in
Florida."" He termed Florida Governor Bob Martinez a "political transvestite"
for his flip-flops on taxation, labeled right-wing preacher Jerry Falwell "a pious
piece of intellectual flab," and likened Vice-president Dan Quayle to "a male
Vanna White" in reference to the blonde letter-turner on TV's "Wheel of
Fortune."4 Of conservative National Review editor William F. Buckley, his
philosophical arch-rival, Davis observed, he "goes through life perpetually startled
that 1890 has come and gone. If he has a fairy godmother advising him nightly
at bedside, it is 19th century robber baron Jay Gould in drag.""
Writing for heightened effect often proved risky. Style alone could get him
in trouble when readers misunderstood the message or balked at the tone instead
of the substance of an argument. When the un pinned down an errant official,
however, readers also sat back in silent delight. Davis reserved his harshest
criticism for officials who abused the public trust. His rebuke varied in degree
from mild satire or ridicule to scornful derision.
Davis leveled devastating invective against former Florida Congressman
Richard Kelly in a February 11, 1980, editorial, "Kelly the stuporsnoop," cited for
excellence by the National Conference of Editorial Writers. Kelly had been caught
up in the FBI "Abscam" investigation when he was videotaped accepting $25,000
in cash from undercover agents. He contended the FBI "blew the cover" on his
own investigation. Davis countered with a fact-laden editorial which attacked the
sheer logic of Kelly's defense. "Here's what Americans are being asked to
believe," Davis began. A man with extensive legal credentials and service as a
federal prosecutor takes $25,000, fails to record the serial numbers on the bills,
keeps the cash for twenty-six days, spends $174 of it, and advises no law
enforcement agency of his findings. Then Davis concluded:
Accepting Rep. Kelly's story at face value, swallowing his very
own crime-sniffing version, endowing him with the attributes of a
Clark Kent who left his Superman rig at home, all that remains is
an incompetent nincompoop or a case of advanced senility. Kelly's
intellectual prowess is Florida's shame, and he has no business
Rep. Kelly should resign from the U.S. House and offer himself
to University of Florida law students who need raw material for
practice, just as medical students need cadavers."
For the effectiveness of the headline and concluding paragraph and the inclusion
of "one compelling fact after another," the National Conference of Editorial
Writers selected the editorial for publication in "Editorial Excellence Volume I,"
a 1982 compilation of editorials taken from newspapers nationwide."
Davis wrote most editorials as analogies with the meaning reflected in the
symbolism of the title. Typically, he used an anecdote, quote, or saying to capture
the meaning of his topic. He learned to work with the caption in his head,
building the editorial around the title.4 Headlines became more than catchy
summaries, but memorable phrases.
"Weeping in Ebony," which ran September 13, 1974, criticized the federal
government for evading its obligation to enforce racial integration in the North.
The force of his argument came in the comparison, which likened the insensitivity
of the government to a turn-of-the-century white professor who, in researching the
subject of crying, wrote Negro spokesman W.E.B. Dubois to ask "whether the
Negro shed tears."*
In "Lessen Thy Meals," published February 15, 1974, Davis found it hard to
believe that William H. Bevis, a member of the Florida Public Service Commission
had lunch with truckers simply to discuss his political future. Given that 1974 was
an election year and the trucking industry was regulated by the PSC, Davis
suggested that Bevis "would have benefitted more from a spiritual seance with
Benjamin Franklin, who distinctly advised: 'To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.'"'
Davis drew heavily on his Southern heritage, preferring the language of
everyday speech to erudite prose. His wording was simple and direct, shorn of
vague abstractions, but rich in figures of speech, concrete detail, and imagery. His
characteristic use of simile and fresh metaphorical references colored and defined
the writing. He often summed an issue in a highly descriptive, aphoristic style.
Wrongdoing at the state government level may expose an official to intense public
scrutiny, but as Davis would phrase it, "the higher a fellow climbs the greased pole,
the more his tail shows."' He summarized the Reagan White House years with
the following line from a column years later: 'The difference between the White
House and.the Boy Scouts is that the Boy Scouts have adult supervision.""
Word craftsmanship and cleverly-turned phrases, however, were no substitutes
for research, and Davis read widely. For source material, he relied primarily on
his extensive clip files of newspaper and magazine articles, books and a list of
references, which included, among others, the Congressional Quarterly Weekly
Report Almanac of American Politics, and a variety of liberal and conservative
He could not bring himself to waffle on an issue. If he took a stand, he
came out for it vigorously. "Logic demands that we try to pick the right course
and peddle it to the public, regardless of what a majority wants,"" he wrote. As
the following chapter suggests, Davis was a lot like the cracker judge he often
quoted as saying, "He may sometimes be wrong but he is never undecided.""
1. Al Burt, "No Friend of the Diddly Squats," Miami Herald Tropic. 8 March
3. H. G. (Buddy) Davis, Jr., "Today's Rebel," The Florida Alumnus 19, no. 1
(December 1966): 19.
4. Davis interview, 1 June 1988.
6. Buddy Davis, [Gainesville, Florida], TLS, to Harry [Reagan], [Jacksonville,
Florida], 11 October 1970, Davis personal file.
7. Davis, "Being Nasty," p. 55.
9. Davis interview, 1 June 1988.
10. Davis, "Being Nasty," 54-56.
11. Davis, "Today's Rebel," 19-21.
12. [Horance G. Davis], "Under Cover Craps I," Gainesville Sun. 13 January, sec.
A, p. 4.
13. [Horance G. Davis], "The Double A Cup," Gainesville Sun. 19 October 1973,
sec. A, p. 4.
14. Stonecipher, Editorial and Persuasive Writing. 109-110.
15. Davis, memo to Glenn and Mike, WJXT-TV, 26 September 1986.
16. Davis, "Being Nasty," 56.
17. [Buddy Davis], Memo to Harry [Reagan], 11 October 1970, Davis personal
18. Stonecipher, Editorial and Persuasive Writing, 111-118.
19. [Horance G. Davis], "The Razor's Edge," Gainesville Sun. 2 November
1970, p. 6.
20. Buddy Davis, interview by author, 17 January 1990, Gainesville, Florida.
21. Davis memo to Harry [Reagan], 15 September 1970.
22. Davis interview, 15 October 1987.
24. Davis interviews, 15 October 1987 and 1 June 1988.
25. Maurine Hoffman Beasley and Richard R. Harlow, Voices of Change:
Southern Pulitzer Winners (Baltimore: University Press of America, 1979), 123.
27. [Horance G. Davis], "Stolen Credits," Gainesville Sun 14 July 1975, sec. A,
28. Davis memo to Glenn and Mike, WJXT-TV, 26 September 1986.
30. Johnson interview, 30 July 1988.
31. Burt, "No Friend of the Diddly Squats," p. 30; Jack Feldman, Gainesville,
to Editor, Gainesville Sun. 28 April 1975.
32. Burt, "No Friend of the Diddly Squats," p. 30.
33. Alan L. Cohen, "Every Issue Has Two Sides," Gainesville Sun. 11 January
1974, sec. A, p. 4.
34. Skip Perez, "Sun Editorials Win Pulitzer," Gainesville Sun. 4 May 1971, sec.
A, pp. 1, 4.; Davis memo to Glenn and Mike, 26 September 1986.
35. Johnson interview, 30 July 1988.
37. [Horance G. Davis], "Bundle of Memories," Gainesville Sun. 11 November
1976, sec. A, p. 4.
38. Davis, "Softening the facts," sec. A, p. 10.
39. [Horance G. Davis], "The Trade Off," Gainesville Sun 23 April 1973, sec.
A, p. 4.
40. [Horance G. Davis], "Bottled Scorpions," Gainesville Sun. 11 May 1975, sec.
A, p. 4.
41. [Davis], "Repair Job," sec. A, p. 4.
42. [Horance G. Davis], "Making Ends Meet," GainesvillSun. 12 September
1974, sec. A, p. 4.
43. Horance G. Davis, "Martinez's Flip-Flops Linked to Reagan's Bait-and-
Switch," Gainesville Sun 17 September 1987, sec. A, p. 9; Horance G. Davis,
"That Ole-Time Religion Is Gone," Gainesville Sun 15 August 1985, sec. A, p.
10; Horance G. Davis, "Can Humor Ease Hard Times Ahead?" Gainesville Sun.
19 January 1989, sec. A, p. 10.
44. Horance G. Davis, "But, Did the Lady Learn to Type?" Gainesville Sun. 2
August 1984, sec. A, p. 10.
45. [Horance G. Davis], "Kelly the Stuporsnoop," Gainesville Sun, 11 February
1980, sec. A, p. 4.
46. National Conference of Editorial Writers, Editorial Excellence Volume I,
1982, p. 33.
47. Davis interview, 10 September 1987.
48. [Horance G. Davis], "Weeping in Ebony," 13 September 1974, sec. A, p. 4.
49. [Horance G. Davis], "Lessen Thy Meals," Gainesville Sun. 15 February
1974, sec. A, p. 4.
50. [Horance G. Davis], "Judgment Call," Gainesville Sun, 29 January 1976, sec.
A, p. 4.
51. Horance G. Davis, "Reagan Needs Supervision," Gainesville Sun. 4
December 1986, sec. A, p. 10.
52. [Horance G. Davis], 'The Majority," Gainesville Sun. 18 October 1973, sec.
A, p. 4.
53. [Horance G. Davis], "Never in Doubt," Gainesville Sun. 24 January 1974,
sec. A, p. 4.
The Gainesville Sun had in Davis an editorial writer who knew the town
and had watched it grow. He and Johnson shared many parallel ideas about
society, and under their direction, the newspaper adopted an editorial policy
notable for its activist stance on social issues. As Davis noted in an early
editorial published March 29. 1964:
We have sought to establish the Gainesville Sun Sun as a
believer in equal rights, as a defender of the poor and ignorant, as
an enemy of corruption, and as a tool for public dialogue.'
Davis believed that establishing a firm editorial policy required knowing
how to gauge public opinion and how to guide and select the issues. Johnson
said his early writing was on the cutting edge of civil rights and the ecology of
the state and county. He praised Davis for his vision and his keen analysis of
events. Davis, he said, anticipated the public consciousness changing over the
issue of integration, and he articulated what people thought but many did not
want to hear. The early editorials also revealed elements of a practical peace
theme. Johnson views with pride the early stand the Sun took in opposition to
the war in Vietnam. "The editorials Buddy wrote in the conducting of the
Vietnam War were really profound and were statements that appeared in other
papers literally years later, and they withstood the test,"2 he said.
Editorials in the 1970s often mirrored national and international headlines
in their absorption with such issues as Vietnam, Cambodia, Kent State, and
Watergate. Davis also editorialized extensively against corruption in
government and came down strongly on behalf of the constitutional guarantees
of free speech and rights of privacy.
Sun. editorials, which generally ran two-columns down the left side of the
page, emphasized state and local government issues, particularly topics dealing
with ethics in government, the death penalty, state reform and growth-related
issues. Editorials which appeared in the Sun occasionally appeared in its sister
newspapers statewide, the Ocala Star-Banner and Leesburg Commercial. but
more often in the Lakeland-Ledger
"Generally the un. was a leader in public policy, not a follower," Davis
said. "When we set a goal, we stayed with it."'
Editorial campaigns met with mixed results. The Sun campaigned against
the death penalty for years without any appreciable success, Davis recalled.
The newspaper's long-term support of city-county consolidation also forced the
issue on the ballot, he said, only to be rejected by the voters. Davis attributes
gains in race relations and integration in Alachua County to several factors,
most notably community cooperation and progressive leadership, but he credits
the Sun for effectively helping to campaign statewide for a corporate income
tax law and legislation compensating crime victims.'
Of the editorials campaigns initiated during the 1960s, the Sun's early
stands on civil rights and the war in Vietnam set it apart.
Editorials in support of integration, school busing, and civil rights were
among the most forceful and intense of any that Davis wrote. His reasoned
pleas for ending racial strife were credited with helping to ease tensions and
stir leadership and earned for him three of the profession's top honors--the
Pulitzer Prize, Sidney Hillman and Sigma Delta Chi awards for editorial writing.
Perhaps nowhere else in his writing is he more convinced of the rightness of his
cause than over the issue of race. "Some issues you've got to be sure you're
right," he said, "race relations being one."'
With tensions surrounding court-ordered integration in 1970, Davis said the
newspaper became acutely concerned about the basic issue of fairness and
aware of the potential for violence within the community. He explained his
position in an interview for the book Voices of Change: Southern Pulitzer
I think the first thing you recognize is the fundamental
righteousness of the court decision and the sociological correctness
of the thing. I think you start with that. The second thing is
knowing that you have community trouble coming. You try to
head it off and temper it by lending what weight and authority the
paper may have by first making it respectable-the court decision
and everything--for after all, we had a Governor who didn't agree
with this, and we had a strong Wallace depth in this section.'
Davis said the newspaper did not concern itself with "nuts and bolts" issues
over how many students to bus. That was left to officials. The newspaper was
more concerned about "tone," he said, and focusing on the "big picture."
Once the newspaper took a stand on busing and integration, it did not deviate,
Davis always considered being a Southerner a "shield" for his "liberal
proclivities," and coming from Starke gave him a certain immunity, he said,
from personal criticism, particularly over the issue of race.8 His teaching
colleague Hank Conner once observed of Davis, "He's fearless in attacking the
dark side of the South because he knows it so well."' Over that issue, however,
the Sun also succeeded in alienating readers on both ends of the political
spectrum. Davis recalled:
Naturally, I was slammed around a bit, both by rednecks fighting
integration and by blacks threatening to walk the streets with nail
studded clubs. There was, indeed, a local underground newspaper
called the Flaming Spear which threatened to hurl one at my
home because of my racism. In the meanwhile, the whites-only
Country Club had a price on my head, and the university
president took me to lunch to protest the parallel I drew between
his Club membership and the KKK.I
Nor was the Su's pro-integration stand viewed as progressive or
enlightened by some segments of the community. During the strife of the early
1960s, Davis tried to appeal to the community's better instincts with praise and
the expectation that "no real Southerner will insult a black man for the petty
satisfaction of maintaining a farcical segregation." His continued defense of the
true "Spirit of the South"" often struck some readers as an overly simplistic
generalization that was idealistic, at best, in its assumption. Protesters gathered
at the Sun in January 1968 to criticize the newspaper's coverage of racial events
and object to what the group called the Sun's policy of projecting the city "as a
progressive and enlightened city where the delights of rural life mingle with the
excitement of social change.""
The group accused the Sun of "blacking out" news coverage of anti-war
demonstrations and peace marches and suggested that the reality of life in
Gainesville was "racism, poverty and banality, sugar-coated by the Sun with
puerile language and nauseating sentimentality.""
Among the early editorials on race relations, however, his tribute to Robert
Scott, a Negro elected in 1963 to the Lawtey City Council in rural North
Central Florida, remains a noteworthy example of the Sun's stand on civil
rights. Scott, a family man, had planned to bow out of city government after
waking to find a flaming cross in his yard. Davis gave Scott and the voters
who put him in office the newspaper's editorial support and condemned those
who tried to force his resignation." More than a decade later, in an editorial
published February 10, 1974, the Sun was paying tribute of a different kind by
marking Scott's tenth anniversary on the City Council."
The Sun also found itself running counter to public opinion over its
editorial policy on the war in Vietnam.l Davis was one of the early skeptics
who never endorsed the war. At a time when much of the country supported
U.S. intervention, Davis began actively opposing the war in 1967 without
resistance from newspaper management."
Davis had a personal reason for his interest in the war. His son, Greg,
was nearing draft age. Davis immersed himself in a history of the conflict and
came away convinced the United States had no business there, nor did he think
the South Vietnamese could win, even with U.S. aid.' He considered the U. S.
venture in Indochina an exercise in adventurism and colonialism and regarded
each presidential reason for sustaining the war just as flimsy as the
administration's before it."
The Sun joined the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times in opposing
the invasion of Cambodia and spoke out in support of anti-war dissenters."
The Sun also strongly supported the Cooper-Church Amendment limiting tax
money for the fighting in Cambodia." Davis called the bombing of Cambodia
by Nixon in April 1969 "the most monstrous act of duplicity in modern times.""
The war, he said, not only had dragged a neutral nation into the fighting, it had
been kept from the U.S. Senate with falsified Pentagon records. Publication of
the classified Pentagon Papers by the New York Times in June of 1971, he
said, "reveal duplicity, double-dealing and downright falsehood in selling the
Vietnam War to the American public.""
With the fall of Saigon by May of 1975, Davis remarked: "Vietnam lacked
one vital ingredient necessary to summon forth the American spirit. The
national existence was not at stake.""
Vietnam had not only taken 46,000 American lives, he argued, it had
literally stood as a barrier between father and son. His stormy relationship
with his own son during that period represented, in a sense, the shared anguish
and concern of parents of draft-age sons across the country. Margie Davis well
remembers their differences. Davis had always considered himself radical in
thought, and Greg, she said, was much like his father."
"Buddy and Greg felt the same way about most things, but they went about
if differently. Buddy felt he'd get more accomplished if he worked through the
establishment," she said. Initially, Greg had decided to join war resisters in
Canada as a conscienscious objector if drafted. "We both said we'd stand by
him if he wanted to go to Canada," Mrs. Davis recalled. He opted, instead, to
join the military as a paramedic and refuse to carry a rifle, but his draft
number never came up."
Davis sympathized with the goals of the anti-war movement in the United
States. He supported the peace marchers and placard carriers by pressing their
cause in the establishment press, but he denounced editorially the use of
violence as a form of protest." When National Guardsmen opened fire on
protesting students at Kent State University in May of 1970, he condemned the
action and pled for justice for the four slain students." He had encouraged
critical thought and free inquiry with his own students. Of that time, he later
surmised, historians "will record a revolution in which the youth forced such a
reassessment of national values that it turned the nation against colonialism at
least for a time."'
Press Freedom and Free Speech
Few human rights issues drew as much ardent support from Davis as press
freedom and free speech. He vigorously defended Constitutional rights of a
free press and assailed any attempts by government or the citizenry to stifle
uninhibited public debate. He consistently championed the cause of open
meetings and open records, opposed gag rules that limited reporting in pre-trial
proceedings, denounced most forms of censorship, and editorialized against
secrecy in government. More often than not, the Sun's editorial stands fell on
the side which eventually prevailed, particularly the advocacy position taken by
the Sun in support of Florida's Government in the Sunshine Law barring
government from operating in secrecy. Following legislative enactment in 1967,
Davis continued to fight any attempts to dilute the law's effectiveness."
His convictions extended just as forcefully to open records. Davis praised
Florida Attorney General Robert Shevin for broadening the open records law
to include even "working papers" of officials and administrators, including
memos, police investigation reports, and prospective appointees.3 He also
enthusiastically supported the open records-open government stance of U.S.
senators Lawton Chiles and Richard Stone and applauded Chiles for working to
secure a federal Sunshine Law by pushing a bill through the U.S. Senate."
Perhaps nowhere is his support of press freedoms more apparent than in
the Gainesville Sun editorials on press-court relations and First Amendment
issues. The Su's condemnation of a Florida Supreme Court decision in mid-
1973 placed the newspaper squarely against the state's right-of-reply statute in
the landmark case of Tornillo V. the Miami Herald.
In its decision, the Florida Supreme Court declared the First Amendment
permitted the state to require newspapers which criticized political candidates to
print the candidates' replies. The court viewed the right of reply in print media
as similar to the right granted those attacked by broadcasters under the equal
opportunity and fairness doctrines. Davis, however, labeled the decision
"asinine" and "blatantly unconstitutional" and warned that all Florida newspapers
and readers were threatened by the ruling. The decision, he argued, was a
"bastardized version of .. governmental interference," which primarily ignored
the fact that printing, unlike broadcasting, with assigned frequencies, was not
licensed by government. When the Herald subsequently appealed the decision,
Davis, recognized for his commentary as a Pulitzer Prize-winner, joined a list of
eight of the most prominent individuals in American journalism as friends of
the court in the case." Their efforts were rewarded when the Supreme Court,
in a milestone decision for communications law, reversed the Florida court and
exempted newspapers from the requirements of providing a right to reply.
Despite the victory for print journalism, Davis, a year later, bemoaned the
myopia of the Florida court, which he said "so thoroughly misread the U.S.
Constitution that even a village idiot could have corrected the copy.""
Davis editorialized just as vigorously against gag rules limiting press
coverage in pre-trial proceedings, taking on once again, with no particular
reverence, top judicial officials. Typical of his objections was the editorial
position taken by the Sun in early July 1973 before the much publicized trial of
the "Gainesville Eight," a group of Vietnam Veterans Against the War who
were accused of plotting in Gainesville to violently disrupt the 1972 Republican
convention in Miami. Before the proceedings, to ensure a fair trial, the Sun
had launched a campaign on the right of assembly and the American tradition
of protest. During the trial, however, the Sun's opposition centered on Federal
Judge Winston E. Arnow's decision to prohibit a network sketch artist from
drawing in the courtroom during the trial or from memory outside the court.
Davis said Arnow had avoided the pitfalls of ordering a "sweeping gag" by
silencing only the trial participants and not the press, but he wondered how
Arnow, "an old Micanopy boy grounded in law at the University of Florida,"
could have gotten "so far off-base" in abridging a basic First Amendment right
to publish. An extension of Arnow's order would also prevent a news person
from reporting on the trial, Davis argued. A higher court agreed and
overturned the order."
A judicial order issued by another "Gainesville lad-grown-up," Chief Justice
James C. Adkins of the Florida Supreme Court, provoked a similar outcry in
the Sun under the heading "Obiter Dicta, You All," August 5, 1974. Davis
accused Adkins of exerting "a bold courtly grasp of power" by banning all state
investigations of political candidates before the November 5, 1974 general
election." Concerned that State Treasurer Thomas O'Malley's re-election
chances might be jeopardized by the effects of a grand jury probe, Adkins had
instead chosen to shield all candidates with immunity until after the election.
Davis, once again, declared the order unconstitutional. "It abridges the
privilege of the citizenry to know about the candidate," he wrote. "It deprives
the candidate of due process of law. It violates the doctrine of equal
protection of the laws."'
Secrecy in Government
Issues relating to secrecy in government often found a forum on the S n's
editorial pages. Davis resisted the practice when he said it "turned against the
citizenry."' He once referred to the Central Intelligence Agency as "a good
idea gone wrong"' and suggested that the Pentagon Papers should not have
been classified in the first place. The government, he argued, classifies too
much information for its own benefit."
Davis hit hard at the threat of information control and secrecy in
government in a speech at the Pentagon for the 1973 Thomas Jefferson
Symposium for military publicists. Attending the symposium were chiefs of
information of the four services, senior officials of the Defense Department and
service editors, broadcasters and information officers from posts around the
world. Davis was among a group of distinguished guest speakers which
included Lou Harris of Lou Harris and Associates, N.Y.; Reed Irvine, chairman
of Accuracy in Media; Isaiah Fletcher of WBAL, Baltimore, and Dr. S.I.
Hayakawa, San Francisco State Unversity.4' In his "Report from the
Boondocks," Davis lauded attempts to reduce the number of classified
documents, but he came down hard on the military-industrial establishment for
trying to orchestrate news and stifle the free flow of information. "I was
introduced by an Air Force General," Davis recalled. "When I got through, he
was nowhere around, and no one invited me to lunch.""
1. [Horance G. Davis], "For Clarity's Sake," Gainesville Sun. 29 March 1964, sec.
A, p. 4.
2. Johnson interview, 30 July 1988.
3. Davis interview, 15 October 1987.
5. Davis interview, 7 October 1987.
6. Beasley and Harlow, Voices of Change, 118.
7. Ibid., 122.
9. Hank Conner interview, 18 March 1988.
10. Horance G. Davis, Gainesville, Florida, to Ron Dorfman, Quill magazine,
Chicago, Illinois, TLS, 7 August 1988, Davis personal file.
11. [Horance G. Davis], "The Spirit of the South," Gainesville Sun 21 May 1963,
12. Arlene Caplan, "Protesters Attack G'ville Sun," The Florida Alligator 5
January 1968, p. 4.
14. [Horance G. Davis], "Who Is to Speak?" Gainesville Sun 10 December
1963, p. 4.
15. [Horance G. Davis], "It's Worth It," Gainesville Sun. 10 February 1974, sec.
A, p. 4.
16. Davis interview, 10 September 1987.
17. [Horance G. Davis], 'Tone Deaf," Gainesville Sun. 1 May 1975, sec. A, p.
4; Davis letter to Hohenberg.
18. Mary Jo Tierney, "A Study of Editorial Response in Selected Florida
Newspapers in Reaction to Student Dissent Following Kent State and
Cambodian Invasion" (thesis, University of Florida, 1976) 60-61.
19. [Horance G. Davis], "No Place to Pray," Gainesville Sun. 26 July 1973, sec.
A, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis], 'The Partnership," Gainesville Sun. 13 October
1973, sec. A, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis], "Wheelchair Brigade," Gainesville Sun.
25 June 1974, sec. A, p. 4.
20. Tierney, "A Study of Editorial Response," 39; [Horance G. Davis], "More
Blood and Tears," Gainesville Sun. 6 May 1970, sec. A, p. 4.
21. Tierney, "A Study of Editorial Response," 41.
22. [Horance G. Davis], "Pushing the Chain," Gainesville Sun. 1 March 1975,
sec. A, p. 4.
23. [Horance G. Davis], 'Tainted Justice," 6 May 1973, sec. A, p. 4.
24. [Davis], 'Tone Deaf," sec. A, p. 4.
25. Margie Davis interview, 22 October 1987.
27. [Horance G. Davis], "The Awakened Beast," Gainesville Sun. 7 February
1976, sec. A, p. 4.
28. [Horance G. Davis], "Domestic My Lai," Gainesville Sun. 19 May 1973, sec.
A, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis], 'The Moral Midgets," Gainesville Sun. 27 July
1973, sec. A, p. 4.
29. [Davis], "'The Awakened Beast," sec. A, p. 4.
30. [Horance G. Davis], 'The Anachronism," Gainesville Sun. 16 May 1973,
sec. A, p. 4.
31. [Horance G. Davis], "Crow Modestly," Gainesville Sun. 3 August 1974, sec.
A, p. 4.
32. [Horance G. Davis], "Baring the Core," Gainesville Sun. 5 July 1975, sec.
A, p. 4.; [Horance G. Davis], "Power to the People," Gainesville Sun. 18
September 1976, sec. A, p. 4.
33. [Horance G. Davis], "The Shoplifters," Gainesville Sun. 22 July 1973, sec.
A, p. 4.
34. Miami Herald Publishing Company v. Pat L. Tornillo, Jr., Brief of the
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Legal Defense and Research
Fund in the Supreme Court of the United States (October term, 1973): No. 73-
35. [Horance G. Davis], "Obiter Dicta, You All," 5 August 1974, Gainesville
Sun, sec. A, p. 4.
36. [Davis], "Never in Doubt," sec. A, p. 4.
37. [Davis], "Obiter Dicta, You All," sec. A, p. 4.
39. [Horance G. Davis], "Hanging in There," Gainesville Sun. 8 July 1974, sec.
A, p. 4.
40. [Davis], "Tainted Justice," sec. A, p. 4.
42. Office of Information for the Armed Forces, Thomas Jefferson Symposium,
Booklet, 10 May, 1973, The Pentagon, Washington, D. C.
43. Horance G. Davis, "Report from the Boondocks," Copy of speech for
Thomas Jefferson Symposium, 10 May 1973; Davis interview, 3 September 1987.
A MATTER OF PUBLIC TRUST
Davis devoted a great deal of editorial space in the early 1970s to the
issue of public trust and corruption in government. His preoccupation with the
subject mirrored events and the general distrust in government so pervasive in
On the national level, defeat in Indochina, disclosure of Central
Intelligence Agency misdeeds at home and abroad, and the morass of the
Watergate scandals had severely tarnished the country's image and influence in
world affairs. At the state level, as well, officials had been mired in scandal in
connection with regulated businesses such as insurance, banking, road
contracting, and pari-mutual gambling.' On a more personal level, however,
Johnson said the commentaries grew out of Davis's sense of indignation and
disillusionment over events. As a result, he said, the editorials took on a tough
candor and the writing often a more critical, strident, and derisive tone.
Johnson attributed the stepped up level of criticism to the general tenor of
the times in which Davis wrote. It was an angry, confrontational time, he said,
when commentators "talked at the top of their voices." Johnson recalled that
after President Richard Nixon resigned from office, the impetus for criticism
took a while to slow down.
Davis considered Nixon's complicity in Watergate an "extraordinary breach
of public trust," Johnson said. "His natural sense of outrage didn't sit well with
those who thought, 'Well, he's still our president,'"' Johnson said.
Criticism of Nixon subjected the Sun to accusations of rumor mongering
and character assassination, particularly such stinging Davis assessments as the
Since Richard Nixon's thumb has the gift of gangrene, which
leaves putrescent all that he touches, it gets increasingly difficult
to isolate one corruption from another.'
One reader called Davis "deranged" for his unflattering characterization of
Nixon.' Others simply resisted the constant barrage of editorial criticism.
Undaunted, Davis refused to let up on coverage, devoting repeated
editorial space throughout 1973 to developments of Watergate, which he
considered "a prime issue of this generation, second only to the Indochina war."'
The Sun had questioned before the 1972 presidential election how deeply Nixon
had been involved in the June 17 bugging of the Democratic National
Committee offices in the Watergate office complex. Prior to the U.S. Senate
investigation of Watergate in May 1973, editorials again had raised the spectre
of Nixon's guilt.' In May, more than a year before Nixon's resignation, Davis
suggested that grounds existed for impeachment.' "Of all American presidents,
Richard Nixon has most spitefully scorned the U.S. Constitution," he later
Davis believed that Nixon should have been impeached and tried, but after
the October 10 resignation of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, he argued that
impeachment was premature so long as the vice presidency remained vacant.0
With the appointment of Vice President Gerald Ford, however, Davis launched
a more vigorous editorial campaign to oust Nixon. In a March 5, 1974,
editorial, he called for impeachment and trial, noting, "Richard Nixoo represents
a political horror in direct contrast to American values."" The president, he
argued, had shown disregard for the Constitution by approving illegal
wiretapping, intercepting mail and condoning domestic burglary--in short, he had
violated his oath of office. Nixon's eventual resignation August 9, 1974, brought
the following editorial comment on that day: 'To the man, a tragedy no doubt.
To the nation, a glorious paean to supremacy of law over men.""
The Sun's state government commentary during the 1970s also focused on
issues of public trust and ethics in government at a time when scandal in the
form of kickbacks, land fraud, slush funds, and other corporate and
governmental abuses clouded the state. One year alone, 1975, saw the ouster
of three state cabinet members and two Supreme Court justices."
Sun editorials during the 1970s targeted one politician after another for
wrongdoing or questionable ethics. Davis held public officials to an exacting
code of conduct, so exacting, that he once chastized state Agriculture
Commissioner Doyle Conner, like his predecessor Nathan Mayo, for accepting
Christmas and birthday gifts from employees." Davis believed ethics in
government involved fundamental questions of right and wrong. Though the
legal obligation is often fuzzy, he would say, the moral obligation should be
plain. The politician is not a privileged class, he wrote. The same standards
required of the average citizen should apply to the influential as well."
Campaign for Reform
The reformist stance adopted by the un in the early 1960s also intensified
in the 1970s, particularly at the state government level, with a succession of
editorial campaigns aimed at everything from tax reform to hand-gun control.
Sun editorials in support of judicial reform led the American Bar
Association to honor the newspaper for "outstanding contributions to public
understanding of the American system of law and justice."" The award, the Sun
noted, "was based on 16 editorials published during 1975 on the role of the
judiciary in Florida, prison reform, on merit retention of judges, in support of
legal defense of the freedom of expression and of public access to public
records and public meetings."" The honor was the second ABA award given to
the Sun in recognition of editorials written by Davis. The national and state
bar associations also cited the newspaper in 1972 for endorsing and helping to
explain the sweeping reforms of Article V of the Florida Constitution, which
revamped the state's multi-level judicial system.'8
Davis also editorialized on behalf of such issues as election code reform,
no fault insurance, open housing, urban homesteading, and prison and parole
reform." The Sun effectively campaigned to help win legislative support for a
law compensating crime victims and threw its editorial weight behind successful
efforts to restrict the use of hand-guns in Gainesville and Alachua County'-a
stand which inspired "eye-popping rage among firearms fanciers in the deer and
dove hunting country of North Central Florida,"" observed writer Ai Burt. On
the issues of race and guns, however, Davis acknowledged, "I've usually been
farther out than most people want to go.""
The newspaper also campaigned against the death penalty issue without
much success." The Sun's opposition suffered a blow when the U.S. Supreme
Court upheld the Florida death penalty law in 1976.
His opposition to capital punishment and indiscriminate hand-gun use also
carried over to another sensitive issue, the newspaper's campaign against a state
law allowing law officers to kill fleeing suspects. A Sun editorial, "Licensed to
Kill," published December 3, 1974, struck a nerve by asserting the law was
merely "a hunting license for humans." Davis pegged the editorial to the
shooting of sixteen-year-old runaway Edward Howard, noting that police had
shot the robbery suspect in the back knowing he was unarmed when he broke
and ran. In subsequent editorials, the Sun called for tightening the law and
criticized city officials for not exerting leadership." The case was especially sad,
Davis recalled, because Howard, who remained paralyzed, committed suicide
some time after his return home."
The incident recalled the death six years earlier of a lawbreaker shot in
the back while fleeing with a portable TV set. "Death on Main," published
December 27, 1968, decried the shooting as an unnecessary use of force for a
crime of "stealth," not violence, noting in an understated, tersely worded lead:
"Walter Alphonso Spann wanted a television set for Christmas, and now he is
Taking on Public Figures
Editorial commentary on local government issues also led to periodic run-
ins with public figures and, on one occasion, resulted in a $1 million lawsuit
filed against the newspaper.
Davis seemed prepared to withstand the hostility that resulted from his
editorial stands. "If you're going to be on the surface spouting, you can expect
to get a harpoon once in a while,"" he wrote. At times, however, reaction
became intense. "A very gentle and conscientious county commissioner once
became so infuriated that he telephoned a threat to ram his boot down my
throat," Davis wrote. "Then," he said, "there was the suspended tax assessor
who blamed me, among others, for his troubles.""
The actions of that suspended official, former Alachua County Tax
Assessor Claude M. "Red" Franks, led to one of the early editorial
confrontations Davis had with a public figure. The newspaper's stand in
opposition to Franks' tax assessment policies is a noteworthy example of the
early leadership the Sun exerted in defense of the public interest.
Franks' condemnation of the Sun stemmed from an editorial February 20,
1963, "The Franks' Rampage," which charged that Franks had thrown the county
budget planning process into chaos by reducing tax assessments indiscriminately
and depriving the county of needed revenues for the coming year. More
importantly, the Sun accused Franks of exceeding his constitutional authority
and called on Florida Gov. Farris Bryant to investigate Franks' activities.'
The Suns editorial stand made news itself over the Associated Press wire,
which noted that the newspaper had charged Franks with "waging a personal
political vendetta against other county officials."' News reports indicate other
community leaders shared that view.' On August 30, 1963, after reviewing a
joint petition from the Alachua County School Board and the County
Commission, and a resolution from thirty school principals all calling for
Franks's suspension, the governor removed Franks from office, terming his
actions "erratic, unpredictable and unfounded and arbitrary.""
Davis's files were full of dated stories tracing developments in the issue,
including Franks' running feud with the county, his arrest in 1967 on a charge
of sending a threatening telegram to State Sen. J. Emory "Red" Cross and his
repeated attempts to vindicate himself in subsequent years by running
unsuccessfully for various political offices.?
Davis said he later talked with Franks on friendly terms. "We aged
together, and I became cocky when he passed me on the street without
recognition," Davis wrote. Of those earlier years, when Franks was known to
be armed, he recalled: "Only when he got particularly nasty did I draw the
blinds at night.""
Time also apparently has softened the adversarial relationship Davis once
shared with Alma Bethea, former county registration supervisor who filed a $1
million libel suit against the Sun and its publishers August 11, 1964."
Bethea contended she was libeled in an editorial published March 22,
1964, over alleged balloting irregularities in the March 17 primary election."
The editorial, "Let's Air the Linen," raised questions about "sloppy
bookkeeping," absentee ballots "tossed aside for minor irregularities," and "odd"
list-keeping by election clerks. Davis suggested the community had been "thrust
right to the threshold of a major scandal" and called for a grand jury inquiry."
The editorial generated considerable controversy, in part because the Sun
had taken a strong position against door-to-door voter canvassing, viewed as
way to attract marginal voters, and had implied that election clerks who called
out the names of those who voted were doing so "for the benefit of persons
who kept lists on the sidelines.""
In a follow-up editorial a week later, Davis acknowledged the Sun had
been wrong on one point. The law provided for calling out the names of
voters. He stood by the editorial, however, and assured readers the newspaper
had called for an investigation, not to attack Bethea personally, but to question
A grand jury subsequently found evidence of numerous election
irregularities and registration violations and directed Bethea to comply with the
law." Circuit Judge John A.H. Murphree dismissed the suit Sept. 13, 1964,
based on the Sullivan ruling that a public official cannot show cause for libel
without proving the statement was published with actual malice."
After that ruling, Bethea said she let the case drop."
From a journalist's standpoint, however, the case yielded several rather
important implications for editorialists and reporters to consider about their
Davis was called on as a witness to account not only for the way he
worked as an editorialist, but to explain to the court how he obtained
information for the editorial in question and, in effect, to defend each of the
editorial's major assertions. He further testified, in a sworn deposition, about
the phone calls he made and received on certain days and his sources of
information for the editorial.'
Relying on information from others presents certain hazards, but "you can't
be everywhere at one time,"" he said in a rationale given to Sun attorney
Wayne Carlisle of Gainesville, who later became circuit judge. In this case,
Davis said he had no personal knowledge regarding the election roll
bookkeeping but relied instead on information provided by reporter Jean Carver
(Chance), editor Ed Johnson and various contacts. He said, in effect, he had
trusted the information Carver and Johnson had given him in the past, and he
was convinced that he had facts substantial enough to support the editorial."
Davis, however, had not anticipated how Bethea would react.
Recalling the case twenty-six years later, Bethea said she had been "terribly
distraught" by the publicity and filed suit to contest the statements in the
editorial. "I knew the Sun was out to get me," she said. "They had my
doghide. I was not their candidate. They made it as hard on me as possible
and did all they could to get me out of office." In politics, she said, "you get
all bruised and bloodied, but the Gainesville Sun always showed their dirty side
in every thing I was concerned with."
In retrospect, she said she would have appreciated it if Davis had come to
her personally to check his information. "I'm sure he's mellowed," she said.
"I've prayed about him and thought about him.""
Few public officials absorbed more editorial barbs from Davis over the
years than former Congressman Don Fuqua, who represented the Second
Congressional District. In fact, the running feud between Davis and Fuqua
became about as well-known in the community as the rivalry between Davis and
Cunningham in the journalism department. As a veteran legislator, Fuqua was
a natural target for any editorial writer, but for Davis, the editorial criticism
stemmed, he said, from "gut-deep"" philosophical differences about the role of
government and the obligations of an elected public official.
Davis generally considered Fuqua's voting record "deplorable,'" particularly
his opposition to civil rights legislation and the War on Poverty and his
continued support of the Vietnam War. He stayed on Fuqua consistently
during the early 1970s, devoting a detailed four-part series in July of 1974 to
the Second district and its people and a run-down on Fuqua's record, which he
viewed as contrary to the interests of the district." Fuqua, he said, "represents
the most poverty-stricken district in the State of Florida,"' and yet, Davis said,
he voted against the War on Poverty, food stamps, hospital grants, school
lunches and Medicare."
Davis acknowledged that Fuqua could retain his congressional seat without
the Sun's support." In fact, some observers began to joke that the newspaper's
opposition often ensured victory.
Years later, at a dinner and "roast" for Davis after his retirement from
teaching, former U.S. Rep. Buddy MacKay jokingly referred to the candidates
who owed their careers to Davis for not endorsing them--among them Fuqua.
MacKay said Fuqua privately acknowledged that he really owed a great deal to
Davis. By backing Pete Skinner of Lake City in the 1972 congressional race,
not only did the Sun help Fuqua win the election, it cemented his hold on the
district. Davis, MacKay said, "certified that Don really was the conservative in
Fuqua's integrity, to Davis, was "beyond dispute"--the issue, he said, was
how well Fuqua represented the district." The culmination of their differences
came in 1982 when Davis editorialized to exclude Alachua County from Fuqua's
district during reapportionment. Davis later noted that he considered it "a
major political coup" that through his efforts and others, Fuqua was eventually
written out of the district. When Fuqua stepped down from the U.S. House in
1986 after 24 years in office, Davis observed that "losing an old adversary is
second only to losing an old friend." Said Davis of Fuqua in one parting shot:
"He was an honest and well-intentioned man according to his lights, but his
lights were damnably dim."'
1. [Horance G. Davis], "Recording Angel," Gainesville Sun. 16 May 1974, sec.
A, p. 4.
2. Johnson interview, 30 July 1988.
4. [Horance G. Davis], "Gangrenous Thumb," Gainesville Sun. 26 October
1973, sec. A, p. 4.
5. Louis C. Goolsby, "'Deranged,"' Gainesville Sun. 15 February 1974, sec. A,
6. [Horance G. Davis], "In Search of Blame," Gainsville Sn 13 September
1973, sec. A, p. 4.
7. [Horance G. Davis], "One Leg at a Time," Gainesville Sun. 22 April 1973,
sec. A, p. 4.
8. [Horance G. Davis], "How to Win Big," Gainesville Sun 10 May 1973, sec.
A, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis], "The Man in Red," ainesville Sun. 25 May 1973,
sec. A, p. 4.
9. [Horance G. Davis], "Challenging the Sun," Gainesville Sun 12 July 1973,
sec. A, p. 4.
10. [Horance G. Davis],
1973, sec. A, p. 4.
11. [Horance G. Davis],
sec. A, p. 4.
12. [Horance G. Davis],
sec. A, p. 4.
13. [Horance G. Davis],
1975, sec. A, p. 4.
14. [Horance G. Davis],
1976, sec. A, p. 4.
"Under the Big Top," Gainesvile Sun 23 November
"Plugging the Holes," Gainesville Sun. 5 March 1974,
"Watch in the Night," Gainesvile un. 9 August 1974,
"Guilty of Neglect," Gainesville Sun. 18 November
"Free Will Offering," Gainesville Sun 29 February
15. [Davis], "Listen, the Wind," sec. A, p. 6.
16. "Bar Association Honors Sun," Gainesville Sun. 10 August 1976, sec. A, p.
18. Ibid.; "Florida Bar Association Honors Gainesville Sun," Gainesville Sun 20
June 1972, p. 1.
19. [Horance G. Davis], "Hip and Thigh," Gainesville Sun. 23 July 1970, sec. A,
p. 6; [Horance G. Davis], 'Tait's Slingshot," Gainesville Sun. 26 August 1970,
sec. A, p. 6; [Horance G. Davis], "Light the Fuse," Gainesville Sun, 14
September 1970, p. 6; [Horance G. Davis], "Politics Is Money," Gainesville Sun.
13 October 1970, p. 6; [Horance G. Davis], 'The Hen-House Floor," Gainesville
Sun. 29 November 1970, sec. A, p. 6; [Horance G. Davis], 'Tithe in Tears,"
Gainesville Sun, 17 December 1970, sec. A, p. 6; [Horance G. Davis],
"Homestead the Fifth," Gainesvile Sun. 22 January 1974, sec. A, p. 4; [Horance
G. Davis], "Beheading the Clerk," Gainesville Sun. 24 April 1973, sec. A, p. 4.
20. Davis interview, 27 October 1989 and 17 October 1989.
21. Burt, "No Friend of the Diddly Squats," p. 30.
22. Davis interview, 3 September 1987.
23. Davis interview, 21 September 1988.
24. [Horance G. Davis], "Licensed to Kill," GainesvilleSun. 3 December 1974,
sec. A, p. 4.
25. Davis interview, 28 February 1990.
26. [Horance G. Davis], "Death on Main," Gainesville Sun. 27 December 1968,
27. [Horance G. Davis], "Closing Missions of War Provide Most Enduring
Memories," Gainesville Sun 7 August 1987, sec. A, p. 15.
28. [Horance G. Davis], "Soothed by the Ultimate Equalizer," Gainesville Sun.
28 July 1985, sec. F, p. 2.
29. [Horance G. Davis], "The Franks Rampage," Gainesville Sun. 20 February
1963, p. 4.
30. Associated Press, wire service report, 20 February , Gainesville,
31. "Assessor Plans to End Tax Fight," Gainesville Sun. 21 November 1962, pp.
1, 2; Harold Rummel, "Franks Lashes Out at School Officials," Gainesville Sun.
31 January 1963, pp. 1, 2.; Ben Pitts, "Bryant Asks Franks to Restudy Actions"
("Assessor Is Handed Reprimand, Told Tax Values Must Grow"), Gainesville
Sun, 13 March 1963, pp. 1, 2.
32. Harold Rummel, "Franks 'Out of Town'; Successor Is Sought" ("Assessor
Suspended by Bryant"), Gainesville Sun. 1 September 1963, sec. A, pp. 1, 2.
33. Norm LaCoe, "Red Franks Arrested, Charged, Gainesville Sun. 18 May
1967, sec. A, p. 1; "Franks Sets His Sights High: Now He'll 'Run for
Governor,"' Gainesville Sun. 8 September 1963, sec. A, p. 1; Jean Carver, "Red
Franks Says He'll Seek Office," Gainesville Sun. 30 January 1964, sec. A, pp. 1,
2; "Franks to Seek Commission Seat," Gainesville Sun. 16 December 1965, p. 2.
34. Davis, "Soothed by the Ultimate Equalizer," sec. F, p. 2.
35. "Mrs. Bethea Sues Sun for Million," Gainesville Sun. 11 August 1964, p. 1.
37. [Horance G. Davis], "Let's Air the Linen," Gainesvile Sun 22 March 1964,
sec. A, p. 4.
39. [Horance G. Davis], "For Clarity's Sake," Gainesville Sun 29 March 1964,
sec. A, p. 4.
40. Harold Rummel, "Grand Jury Charges Gross Vote Violations" ("Adds
Substance to Andrews' Suit"), Gainesville Sun. 20 April 1964, pp. 1, 7.
41. "Libel Suit Against Sun Dismissed," Gainesville Sun 13 September 1964,
sec. A, p. 1.
42. Alma Bethea, phone interview by author, 2 March 1990, Gainesville,
43. Evelyn Harvey, Transcript of deposition in Bethea suit, 28 [October 1964],
Eighth Judicial Circuit.
46. Bethea interview, 2 March 1990.
47. Horance G. Davis, "As Rep. Fuqua Leaves the Hill," GainesvilleSun 8
June 1986, sec. B, p. 2.
48. [Horance G. Davis], 'The Javelin Thrower," Gainesville Sun. 6 July 1973,
sec. A, p. 4.
49. [Horance G. Davis], "Don Fuqua 1: His District," Gainesville Sun. 20 July
1974, sec. A, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis], "Don Fuqua 2: The Dark Years,
Gainesville Sun. 21 July 1974, sec. A, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis], "Don Fuqua 3:
Enlightened," Gainesville Sun. 22 July 1974, sec. A, p. 4; [Horance G. Davis],
"Don Fuqua 4: The High Road," Gainesville Sun. 23 July 1974, sec. A, p. 4.
50. [Horance G. Davis], "Hollow Victory," Gainesville Sun. 22 June 1973, sec.
A, p. 4.
51. [Davis], "Don Fuqua 4: The High Road," sec. A, p. 4.
52. [Davis], "The Javelin Thrower," sec. A, p. 4.
53. Buddy MaKay, Buddy Davis Roast and Toast.
54. [Davis], "Don Fuqua 2: The Dark Years," sec. A, p. 4.
55. Davis, "As Rep. Fuqua Leaves the Hill," sec. B, p. 2.
CRITIC AT HEART
Davis once remarked of his lot as a public commentator that, like it or
not, a certain alienation went with the job. "We commentators have a case of
intellectual AIDS ... so while earning some grudging respect, we generally are
civil lepers." Besides, he confessed, "drawing fire goes with the turf and is even
a source of moderate pride for an opinion writer."'
Even so, much of the criticism leveled against the Sn lay in the fact that
Davis himself was such a critic. It led him to conclude in semi-retirement that
most people thought he was as mean in person as he was in print. "I guess
I've been about as critical an editorial writer as I've been a faculty member," he
said, "a loose canon on both ends. I guess I'm just a critic, period."'
His approach to his work, though, remained rooted in the belief that a
journalist, to be any good, must harbor a little of the muckraking spirit by
looking at society critically and aggressively, and suspiciously.? Underlying all
his writing run the admonitions of a self-professed "windmill tilter" intent on
improving society by pointing out its ills.
That philosophy, combined with his hard-hitting editorial style virtually
assured Davis and the Sun a place in the center of controversy, particularly
over commentaries about local issues, which could provoke intense public
When viewers of Channel 20, the North Central Florida ABC-TV affiliate
in Gainesville, tuned in to the six and eleven o'clock newscasts September 11,
1972, they heard Station Manager Bill Minshall publicly flogging the Gainesville
Sun and its chief editorial writer for being "callous in their disregard for fair
play." Without naming him, Minshall took full aim at Davis by accusing the
Sun of character assassination and "willfull and malicious distortion of facts."'
Minshall told viewers:
Readers of the Sun are continually subjected to wild and
unsubstantiated charges in their editorials. Facts certainly are not
allowed to get in the way of a cleverly turned phrase. Frankly,
some of their editorials are so amateurish in their charges that
they would be humorous if not for the damage that they do to the
reputations of good men and ideals that run afoul of the poison
pen of the Gainesville Sun.m
Some critics suggest that Davis, at the very least, should have heeded his
advice and applied to his own brand of journalism the same exacting standards
to which he held others. He appeared to some as arrogant, self-righteous and
excessively harsh. As he did in class, he often used ridicule to publicly chastize
those who failed to come through, who blundered, or who simply made a
mistake. One Gainesville attorney labeled him a "yellow journalism whore" and
accused him of practicing "the art of verbal murder" by destroying reputations
with his invective.'
Readers seldom expressed that level of animosity, but some people in the
community clearly viewed him as an abusive power tripper, said Jean Chance, a
former Davis student and teaching colleague. "He's a very intense person," she
said. 'There are some who think he's too caustic, too critical, too severe--that
he publicly humiliated people as a kind of power trip."' Other journalism
professionals who have known and worked with Davis also provide insight into
the provocative nature of his work and public reaction to it.
Rae Weimer, dean emeritus of the College of Journalism and
Communications, characterized Davis as "probably the most criticized editorial
writer the Sun ever had. He hit awfully hard," said Weimer, whose friendship
with Davis goes back almost forty years. 'There was no gray area in his
writing. It was either black or white. That had a terrific impact it can
really stun you hard," he said. 'There was nobody who hit any harder than
Weimer praised the strength of Davis's writing and his "marvelous faculty
of using words." He made editorials a pleasure to read, Weimer said. "He's so
often taken the right view in defense of the public and the middle class and the
lower class .. but because he hit so hard, he stepped on an awful lot of toes
in doing it."'
Former Sun editor Ed Johnson recalled that it was not at all unusual to
get outraged responses to an editorial that had been excised from the
newspaper and sent to a corporate office. Johnson said he often defended
editorials by admitting they intentionally were inflammatory. Compared to
today's commentaries, he said, Davis editorials could be "pretty raucous.""
Johnson, however, believes Davis set a tone of editorial voice years ahead
of its time. When Davis began writing editorials in the 1960s, many
commentaries, were "deliberately ponderous and affected," Johnson said, "often
just stultifying."" Davis wrote for effect, at times taking the extreme position so
his message wouldn't be diluted."
Delton Scudder, who taught Davis religion in college, characterizes him as
a man not easily deceived by appearances. "He has an instinct for something
that stinks," Scudder said, "and he goes right after it.""
Former U.S. Rep. Buddy MacKay, often on the receiving end of Davis'
darts and laurels, likened him to the "ketch dog" in the Marjorie Kinnan
Rawlings books--the character "that would take on whatever was in the bushes."
Davis, he said, "has brought up a whole generation of ketch dogs. I'm not sure
that he's always right but he's got a great deal of courage and he's got
tremendous wit, and whatever he goes after, he usually catches.""
Uncompromising, at times, over principle, Davis was typical of those
editorialists who, ... from time to time, if they are any good," observed
Washington Post editorial page editor Meg Greenfield, "... will recognize
questions and public issues that want a little thunder and a little vision and a
In a 1976 commentary on the "camaraderie between a true newshawk and
a true public character," Davis revealed his approach to his work. "Both take
their jobs seriously, but not themselves," he wrote. "In gentle banter, they
expose each others' foibles, usually by exaggeration and outrageous statements.""
His comments, however, were not always interpreted as gentle banter.
Weimer and Johnson both suggest that his critical manner sometimes
worked against him by alienating readers instead of persuading them.
Johnson said letters to the editor often dealt, not with substance, but with
tone, and sometimes, he said, Davis picked the wrong tone to get his message
across. That was evident after the Kennedy and King assassinations of the
1960s and the betrayal of public trust by Nixon and other office holders during
the 1970s. Johnson explained:
There was a period, I think, when Buddy was too harsh, and
part, I think, was his disappointment in events. ... I think he
attached some of his disappointments to his writing style and
convinced himself that the emotional, dramatic didn't work ... so
I'm going to scold more."
Johnson said he tried to eliminate evocative code words. Occasionally, he
said, he should have toned down the writing but did not. He sees Davis's work
as part of a continuum, an evolution in style which has changed and matured.
"Some of the editorials in the '60s could move you to tears," he said. They
were tough, but more likely to give what he termed the "benefit of a goodness
quotient." The tempered editorials of the '60s, though, gave way, he said, to
the more strident criticism so prevalent nationwide during the 1970s."
Davis agrees with the analysis. 'The fact that Vietnam was being
persistently pursued and George Wallace so admired, I felt a sense of futility,"
he said. "In fact, I didn't have the feeling my writing was doing any good on
the war and race issue I though, my God, society's going to pieces.""
Johnson said Davis also overplayed some issues, which caused a rebound
effect. "He likes to see things brought to conclusion," Johnson observed. Like
a carpenter striking a board one more time, he said, "Buddy beats some things
to death," and, in the process, splits the board. But that, Johnson said, is part
of his natural tenacity.
Johnson recalled that Congressman Don Fuqua adopted a "best defense is
none" to the Sun's repeated criticism. "Fuqua, with very few exceptions, ignored
Buddy because he knew he couldn't win, and, thus, he ignored the issues,"
Johnson said. Voters re-elected Fuqua repeatedly despite the Sun's continued
Weimer said criticism sometimes worked against the Sun the way it worked
against the management of PM, the progressive newspaper that broke new
ground in New York during the 1940s and then folded. Weimer was an editor
for the newspaper, which fought, he said, for blacks, Jews, and other minorities
with the slogan, "We're against people who push other people around."
Unfortunately, he said, "They were not the kind of people who read our paper.
If all the people we fought for read our paper, we'd have been a success.""
Davis concedes that "being aggressive and pungent got in the way of
getting things done," but, he said, "I don't know how much I'd have changed. I
like to write that way. It's more readable and it gives a sense of social
In retrospect, he said he may have overtargeted the County Commission or
some local figures, and, in later years, Ronald Reagan. Perhaps, he said, he
should have been "more gentle" with former University of Florida President
Robert Marston or let up on Congressman Don Fuqua, though Fuqua, "was
impenetrable," he insisted. "I think I was just a thorn in his side,"" he said.
Just as his overstated style made him vulnerable to criticism, his preference
for one-sided argumentation also subjected him to accusations that he allowed
dogmatism and bias to cloud his evaluations. Davis rarely took a stand unless
he could come out for it forcefully. He aimed, not for balance, but for a
particular point of view.
By bis own admission, he tended to see issues in black and white. "A
writer to write with any fire has to have the courage of his convictions," he
said. "When you don't have any energy in it, what are you going to get?" And
yet, he said, being decisive drives a writer to a certain dogmatism."
Journalism Professor Rob Pierce, who also taught editorial writing, likened
Davis's approach to turn-of-the-century editorialists Henry Watterson and
William Allen White, who considered it "irresponsible or "wimpish" to give both
sides of a story in an editorial. According to that reasoning, both sides are, or
should be, contained in the news story, not the editorial. In other words,
Pierce said, the theory holds, "It's not the function of the news editorial to be
fair. It is the function of the news editorial to be effective.""
Davis abhors "on the other hand" editorials which are paralyzed by
indecision, Pierce said. "And I agree," he said. "In the name of being fair,
editorials are being turned out that are bland and milk sop and, to my way of
thinking, less effective." Pierce said he considers Davis about the best editorial
writer he's seen in the last half century in terms of research, writing style and
the fresh, unique twist he gave to subject matter. "He's not two-sided and he
never intended to be, and he probably wouldn't accept it as a criticism.""
As editorialist, Davis attempted to offset criticism with his "Darts and
Laurels" mini-commentaries and editorials extending praise, but some readers
argued that complex issues deserved a more balanced approach than Davis gave
Gainesville cardiologist Mark Barrow, a longtime Davis critic on medical
matters, urged Davis as columnist to take a more scholarly approach when
discussing medical conditions. "I admire Mr. Davis' tenacity and his adroitness
with words," Barrow wrote, "but Lord, I wish for once he would try to be a
little more fair in his presentation of our complex medical problems.""
Ralph Lowenstein, current dean of the College of Journalism and
Communications, lauds Davis's writing ability as "almost God-given," but finds
fault with his one-sided argumentative approach. "He has a tremendous facility
with words, an unusually interesting and forceful writing style," Lowenstein said,
" .but I don't buy his way of writing. His philosophy is not one I would
teach to students."
Lowenstein said he once introduced Davis at a Kiwanis meeting as the
most disliked person in town. "When he wrote editorials they probably were
the best read in Gainesville. It was a type of personal journalism. He was a
curmudgeon," Lowenstein said. "That's his strength and his weakness. His
great weakness is that a lot of his stuff is not on a sophisticated level because
he deals in black and white. 'That's great as long as he's on your side, but if
he's gearing your ox, it's not."
He said he found himself at odds with Davis over a very personal issue--a
series of columns Davis wrote which were critical of Israel and its policies,
particularly Israeli bombing of the USS Liberty, discussed more fully in Chapter
17. He said the columns, from his perspective at least, have affected his
friendship with Davis and caused him to re-evaluate him as an opinion writer.
"It's the nature of the criticism and the repetitiveness of it, and I regret it very
deeply," he said.
Lowenstein, who served in the Israeli Army, said he regarded the columns
as not only intemperate, but "vicious" in tone and distorted by "half-truths and
innuendo" that overlooked explanations about Israel which would have provided
some balance. A one-sided argument assumes people have all the facts on an
issue, he said, and they don't. The writing style may be more interesting, but
the message becomes far less credible.
Lowenstein said he has wondered what Davis would have been like as an
opinion writer if he had softened his critical edge. "When he gets down on
somebody, he considers he's Horatio at the Bridge," he said. "Buddy's nature
has been very critical," Lowenstein said. "In many ways, he divided the
community, but the guy is such a great writer.""
In response to Davis editorials and columns, letters to the editor ran the
gamut of praise and blame. One reader called Davis "one of the most
vindictive, vituperative, virulent writers it has ever been my displeasure to
read."" A reader from Silver Springs, Fla., shared the view that Davis was,
indeed, "very biased and dogmatic, but he is more often than not, right."'
One reader praised Davis as a writer with "the pen to speak sanity to a
world gone mad,"" but another wondered if he "dines on scorpions, tarantulas
and black widow spiders before sitting down at his typewriter, probably
imbedded in poison ivy. .. .""
Readers, too, have applauded his style whether they agreed with his stands
or not. As author and writing critic William Zinsser said of journalist H. L.