Condolences continue to pour in over the passing of Washington Teachers’ Union President Elizabeth Davis, who died April 4 — Easter Sunday — in a car crash on Route 301 in Bowie, Maryland.
Davis, 70, was a firebrand, and a no-nonsense advocate for D.C. public schoolchildren, their teachers and their parents. The union she was first elected to serve in 2013, and reelected in 2019, credited Davis for the WTU’s “transformation into a social justice, solution-driven organization.” Her passion for “advancing and promoting quality education for all children,” irrespective of their zip codes or test scores, drew admiration from a broad range of individuals across all sectors.
Before Davis, the WTU experienced ongoing turmoil within its leadership, repeatedly challenged for not providing educational opportunities and access for all students. A former classroom teacher for more than four decades and as a member of the WTU before becoming president, she proved her mettle by challenging the school system’s chancellors for actions she believed would result in inequitable treatment of Black teachers and students.
Originally from North Carolina, Davis moved with her family to D.C. when she was in the third grade. In high school, she was an activist. She organized a school walkout at Eastern High School, where she attended, over the curriculum’s lack of African American History and culture. But it is no wonder she took the path of resistance as a school leader following in the footsteps of another WTU firebrand, William Simons, WTU’s first president, who served for more than 25 years.
Simons was known for his “militant” stand on issues, and he would threaten and carry through on plans to organize teachers’ strikes and marches to demand better pay for D.C. teachers. He fought policies that set teachers up for failure and initiatives that had a deleterious effect on students. Simons died December 7, 2016, in Atlanta. He was 92.
Born in an era and growing up in another that leaves one no choice but to fight for educational equity are the choices both Simons and Davis made. And, for those who call themselves proud DCPS graduates, much is owed to these two who were dedicated firebrands on their behalf.