Erma Glasco Davis, PhD

Educator | Class of 2009

Erma Glasco Davis is a historian, civic leader, and educator. She is best known for preserving and communicating the legacy of her alma mater, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and Junior College (the building is in use in the twenty-first century as Dunbar Magnet Middle School), and highlighting the impact this historically black institution has had in Arkansas.

Erma Lee Glasco was born on December 31, 1928, in Eagle Township of Pulaski County, near Keo, Arkansas, to Anderson Glasco and Rodelia Glasco. Her father was a stone and masonry contractor, a deacon at Mount Zion Baptist Church, a member of the Arkansas Minority Contractors Association, and a former board member of the Little Rock YMCA. Her mother was head baker at the bakery shop at Central High School (then known as Little Rock High School) in Little Rock during World War II. After the desegregation of Central, which led to the closing of Little Rock public schools for the 1958–59 school year, Rodelia Glasco earned her high school diploma and then a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master of Education degree in curriculum instruction from the University of Wisconsin at Madison; she eventually became a faculty member at Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock.

The family moved to the South End neighborhood of Little Rock, where Erma Glasco and her brother Otis attended primary school. The South End is roughly outlined by Roosevelt Road to the north, Interstate 30 to the east, Fourche Creek to the south, and Woodrow Street to the west.

Erma Glasco graduated from Dunbar High School in May 1945. She received a Bachelor of Science degree from Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal (AM&N) College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff—UAPB) in 1949. That same year, she married Jim Davis; they had one daughter, Marilynn.

After the Central High School desegregation crisis of 1957–59, Erma Davis relocated with her husband and child to Detroit, Michigan. She enrolled in Wayne State University, from which she earned a Master of Secondary Science Education. She later received a doctorate in educational administration and supervision from the University of Michigan.

Davis’s career flourished in Detroit. She was a teacher, counselor, and administrator who served on numerous boards and civic organizations. She was awarded the Spirit of Detroit Award in 1987, the city’s highest community service award. She returned to Arkansas, however, in 1990 because of her desire to share the legacy of Dunbar High School, which, according to author Sharon G. Pierson, “was considered among the best black high schools during the era of segregation for its academic excellence in college preparatory and liberal arts curriculum.”

During her time as president of the National Dunbar Alumni Association (now the National Dunbar Horace Mann Alumni Association) from 1993 to 1999, Davis was the co-chairman of the Dunbar History Project (1994–1998) with fellow alumna Barbara Long Hill (deceased). This project produced the National Dunbar Historical Collections for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and the collection is housed at the Arkansas Studies Institute. The project also produced the traveling exhibit “Paul Laurence Dunbar High School: The Finest High School for Negro Boys and Girls, Dunbar High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1929–1955.” This exhibit was unveiled in 1996 at Arkansas Territorial Restoration (now Historic Arkansas Museum); the Dunbar exhibit has traveled all around the state. It has since found a permanent home at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock. In 2003, Davis co-wrote Paul Laurence Dunbar High School of Little Rock, Arkansas: “Take from Our Lips a Song, Dunbar to Thee” with fellow alumna Faustine C. Jones-Wilson.

Davis was appointed to the state Review Committee for Historic Preservation in 2005 by Governor Mike Huckabee. She was reappointed in 2007 by Governor Mike Beebe.

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