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James P. Davis, 77, longtime attorney who wrote book to help others

April 29, 1941 — Aug. 25, 2018

When James P. Davis decided to study law at the State University at Buffalo, he faced significant challenges. Not only did he have a full-time job as an administrator at the Educational Opportunity Center in Buffalo, he had a working wife and six children.

But Mr. Davis did so well in his study of the law that a law professor asked him to tutor other students, and then to write an article to help minority students and those from working-class backgrounds succeed in law school.

He did the professor one better: He wrote a book.

Titled "How to Make it Through Law School: A Guide for Minority and Disadvantaged Students," the book was published in 1985 and sold in college bookstores and other outlets.

Mr. Davis died Aug. 25. He was 77.

James P. Davis in 1985 with a student considering a law career. (News file photo)

In his book, which was sold in college bookstores, Mr. Davis gave some advice that he had not followed. He recommended that prospective students put off marriage until completing law school. If that wasn't possible, he wrote, the student's spouse should understand the extreme demands of law school.

"I was working then, and I took care of the children with help from my sister," said his wife, Martha A. Davis. "We did it. We made it."

"Law school is no place for persons with personal problems, personal insecurities or a lack of psychological tranquility," Mr. Davis told Buffalo News Reporter Carl Allen in a 1985 interview.

Mr. Davis pointed out that many nontraditional and minority students entered law school without ever personally knowing an attorney. "Historically their family members or friends are not lawyers, and there are far more white lawyers than black," he said. In fact, he said, there were only 10 minority students in his class of 300 at UB.

In his book, he discussed the concept of "first-year trauma" that caused many minority and nontraditional students to drop out after their first year. Students were required to pass one exam per class covering all the material presented, which required them to "develop the skill of organizing a massive amount of material, synthesize it and be able to give it back in a lawyerlike fashion," he said.

After graduating from UB, Mr. Davis stayed on in the dorm so he would be able to study for the bar exam without interruption or distraction, his wife said.

"He was very intellectual, and he loved work," she said.

Mr. Davis was born in Charleston, S.C., the son of Rebecca Smalls and James Davis Sr. and oldest brother of Emily, Samuel, Elvira, David Thompson and Carrie.

He graduated with honors from Burke High School, then married Audrey Mae. They had four children: Andrea, Joseph, Cynthia and Roman.

Mr. Davis, who spoke seven languages fluently, including French, Spanish and Italian, served in the United States Air Force from 1960 to 1967 as an interpreter.

In 1970, he graduated from South Carolina State College with a bachelor's degree and in 1971, he graduated from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, with a master's degree in French.

After graduation, Mr. Davis moved to Buffalo, where he became the Coordinator of Program Development and Research at the UB Educational Opportunity Center, which provides educational, vocational and career services.

While in Buffalo, Mr. Davis met his second wife, Martha Draffin, when she made an appointment at the Educational Opportunity Center for some educational assistance.  They married on June 23, 1976, in her sister's home and had two children, Rebekah and Enoch.

Mr. Davis went on to attend the University at Buffalo, where he earned his Juris Doctorate in Law in 1981. He completed his formal studies and qualified to practice law in 1985.

Mr. Davis earned many awards and fellowships over the years. He was the former chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, a member of the New York Bar Association, the Minority Bar Association and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity.

While working as an attorney, Mr. Davis taught French and Spanish classes part time at the University at Buffalo and Erie Community College's North Campus. At the time of his death, he was learning an eighth language, Arabic, Mrs. Davis said.

In addition to his book, Mr. Davis wrote several articles and poetry.

He was an active member of St. Luke A.M.E. Zion Church in Buffalo.

In his leisure time he loved to compete, play and tutor others in chess and was a member of the U.S. Chess Federation. "He was a chess master and had a good ranking," Mrs. Davis said.

Besides his wife, Martha A., Mr. Davis is survived by his children, Andrea, Joseph, Rebekah, Enoch, LaFrancee and Alexander; siblings, Emily Rivers, Samuel, Elvira McPherson-Glover and David Thompson; 12 grandchildren, 8 great-grandchildren and other relatives.

Visitation will begin at 1 p.m., with the memorial service starting at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, in St. Luke A.M.E. Zion Church, 314 E. Ferry Street, Buffalo.

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