Cleveland “Jomo” Davis was born in Enfield, North Carolina in 1942. He was the oldest of six children and his late parents, Monscyco and Ellen Davis, were share croppers.
Jomo elaborates on his relationship with his parents in a 1995 interview with Jean Stein:
“[My father,] he don’t believe in affection, you know. When he wasn’t drinking he was the quietest, most peaceful person you want to know; but once he started, you could see him change right in front of you. He had a lot of Indian in him and you could tell. My mom was thirteen when I was born, so me and her grew up together. She was my best friend in a sense. And I guess that’s one of the reasons I have so much respect for women” (Davis 1995).
When Jomo was twelve years old his family moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia in search of a better job for his father; here Jomo encountered his first instances of racism.
“I was born in a little town in Enfield, North Carolina, which is near Rocky Mountain. And we moved away from there when I was twelve to Virginia. Now, let a little bit of history about Enfield. Enfield was the type of town where black and white didn’t socialize. . . . But that’s were I was born. But during the whole time in North Carolina, I never experienced the racism between black and white, but when I came to Virginia I did.”- Jomo [audio:http://sites.duke.edu/docst110s_01_s2011_kgd3/files/2011/04/JomoClip6.mp3|titles=JomoClip6]
Like many black children who grew up during times of segregation, Jomo vividly remembers his confusion after learning that that his skin color dictated the way he was perceived by society. See video clip below.
The same year that Jomo became conscious of societal racism, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that public school segregation violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. In 1955 they ordered that desegregation proceed “with all deliberate speed.” However the schools in the Norfolk where Jomo attended school through the ninth grade would not be integrated until 1959, when the “Norfolk 17″ became the only black students in traditionally white schools.
Jomo, who attended Oakwood Elementary school and Ruffner Junior High school in Norfolk, recalls how schools did not teach black history. When Jomo joined the Black Panther Party in 1968, he and other members of the party would work to educate children about African-Americans proud history and would seek to incorporate this material into school curriculum. See video clip below.
While Jomo was still in school, the Montgomery Bus boycott began in December 1955. In 1957 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized and Martin Luther King Junior was named its chairman. [With the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's formation and Brown v. Board decision], the “1950s would then be christened as the start of the modern civil rights era” (Joseph 2006).
Jomo would not join the movement until the late 1960′s. However, when he was kicked out of school in the 9th grade for truancy, Jomo went to work for the Quakers in his community. The skills he acquired while working there enable him to trade labor for information while in prison. Jomo also earned his high school equivalent while in prison.
“But I went to work for the Quakers and Mennonites and they didn’t discriminate and that’s how I learned a lot. Twelve years old I was working on t.v.’s, so in the prison I worked on t.v.’s, computers. I kept t.v.’s going for the old guys in there that had no money and stuff. Then the officers used to come to me and say “hey, off the record see if you can do something for that old man,” so I did a lot of stuff. And so that’s how I was able to get information too, because I did stuff for them, you know why not.” -Jomo[audio:http://sites.duke.edu/docst110s_01_s2011_kgd3/files/2011/04/JomoClip7.mp3|titles=JomoClip7]