Part of the reason I needed my recent break was that learning of the death of Chandler Davidson so soon after losing Sid Burrus just knocked the pins out from under me. I first met Chandler when I was in graduate school, working on a dissertation about the desegregation of the major private universities in the South. He was on my dissertation committee and his excitement and enthusiasm for the project almost certainly, in all honesty, exceeded my own.
His book Race and Class in Texas Politics was foundational for me in understanding the larger context of Rice’s halting movement towards desegregation but it was his personal example that made a more profound impression. Aside from his academic and administrative obligations (which were significant) Chandler spent untold hours working for minority voting rights. He sat on panels and advisory groups, testified before Congress, wrote detailed reports, and acted as a consultant and expert witness in court challenges to dilutive voting systems under the Voting Rights Act. What was so striking was that while I have certainly seen him angry over some of these things (and over some developments on campus as well), his general stance towards the world was overwhelmingly positive. He liked to laugh, he loved to share fun, he delighted in his students and colleagues, and he was always completely himself. I’ve always loved the picture of him as a happy little boy that was included in the program for the 2011 Veteran’s Day celebration on campus, the year he was the honoree:
Chandler, of course, could also joyfully rabble rouse with the best of them. This seems to have begun during his undergraduate years at the University of Texas and carried all the way through his career at Rice. There are a lot of examples. I made myself smile the other day when I went looking for a 1975 Thresher article about the official naming of the engineering school after George R. Brown. I was pretty sure that Chandler had something to do with a protest on that occasion and wanted to check. It turned out that I had misremembered and that he had actually written a letter to the editor after the protestors were chased off campus and threatened with arrest. It’s a beauty, and it’s typical of his forthright and clear manner in demanding accountability. I smiled because although I was wrong, I might have been right.
Chandler Davidson, rest in peace.
Bonus: Sometimes I get to help clean out the offices of people who are moving for one reason or another. This was the case with Chandler–we had a ball going through all his old stuff, some of which is of serious historical value. He was lugging another box to the Woodson when I caught him, grinning as usual.