Salt Lake City renames street in honor of Pastor France Davis

The longtime Calvary Baptist Church leader and civil rights legend is celebrated for his impact on the community.

In the city where he mentored and educated thousands, in the church where he served and nurtured for decades, at the pulpit where he gave sermon after sermon, Pastor France Davis received an accolade Thursday given to a select few.

A street sign.

Salt Lake City has renamed a block of Harvard Avenue (1110 South) from Main Street to State Street. It is now Pastor France Davis Way.

Calvary Baptist Church, located on that block, held a ceremony Thursday to honor Davis, who retired in 2019 after leading the congregation for 46 years. Davis is a civil rights legend in Utah. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. before moving to Utah in 1972. He taught at the University of Utah for decades and served on the Board of Regents. He helped guide Utah’s prison system. And built Calvary Baptist into one of the state’s cornerstone institutions of faith.

While formally retired, Davis remains an active participant in the community, serving on a number of boards, including Salt Lake City’s Racial Equity in Policing Commission.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City leaders, friends and colleagues of the Rev. France Davis gather Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, at the Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City to celebrate the honorary renaming of a portion of Harvard Avenue to “France Davis Way.”

Those who spoke his praises Thursday marveled at his accomplishments.

“Pastor Davis, I humbly say you are remarkable,” said Pastor Oscar T. Moses, who now leads Calvary Baptist.

“Through your life and dedication,” Salt Lake City Council Chair Amy Fowler said, “you have built a stronger and more graceful community for us.”

They also talked about his individual ministry and his willingness to be there for them when they need help or guidance.

“Reverend Davis demonstrated his love and concern for me and my professional and spiritual development,” congregant Kathy Christy said. “... He’s truly a man led by God, serving as a model of what we should all strive for.”

Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she appreciates the occasional 60-second check-in she receives from Davis.

“He gives you a call, and it doesn’t need to last long, but you feel recentered,” she said. “You feel loved and recognized and supported.”

His wife, Willene Davis, after being showered with her own applause, said a few words, calling her husband “Reverend,” because they have a son who is also named France and a grandson who is France Davis III.

“Whatever God told him to do and gave him to do, my responsibility as his wife was to step back, give him a push,” she said, “be at his side, too, so he could be able to do all the things that he’s done.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Rev. France Davis, joined by his wife, Willene, and grandson France Davis III, 8, is celebrated at Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, during an honorary renaming of a portion of Harvard Avenue to “France Davis Way.”

For his part, Davis said “what a beautiful sign” and then launched into a long list of thank-you’s, interrupted by a few comments about the coronavirus.

“I want to recommend that all of you wear your mask,” he said, “and get your shots and your boosters, and let’s ward off this raging pandemic.”

He also told the roughly 150 in attendance that refreshments were available in the gymnasium for those who wanted to stay and mingle.

Shawn Newell, the emcee for Thursday’s event and the congregation’s point person on renaming the street, couldn’t help but laugh.

“Pastor Davis wasn’t supposed to take charge and tell everybody about refreshments and all that,” he told the crowd, which immediately started chuckling. “That is supposed to be my job. But we know him very well.”

Taking a cue from his mentor, Newell ended by saying, “Remember to love each other and continue to contribute to our community, which makes us all stronger.”