Little Known Black History Fact: The Diary of Emilie Davis

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  • Recently at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, a diary documenting the life of a freed black woman, Emilie (Emily) Davis, was restored. Emilie Davis was a young black woman living in Pennsylvania who began writing in her journal the day President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. She expresses that she was thankful that her life had been spared. She also mentioned that every black church opened its doors on January 1, 1863 to celebrate their new freedom.

    Emilie’s diary was passed down through generations of her family and was restored page by page. University experts from Penn State and Villanova have worked to translate all the pages of the diary, which was about the size of an iPhone. Each page was three days of entries. Some of the challenges the researchers had was the phonetic spellings within the pages as well as the variations in quality (ink and pencil).

    Emilie Davis was born in 1839. She was an early-to-mid twenty something seamstress. Her father was a man named Isaac Davis. She was in school during the beginning of her writings. She was a student at what is now Cheyney University.

    In her entries, Davis discusses her feelings after realizing President Lincoln had been assassinated. She describes spending hours waiting, just to see the casket of the slain leader.

    Davis continues to evolve in her life as she describes her marriage to George Bustill White, a secondary choice of her students, as they were all familiar with a man named Vincent. Vincent appears to be an earlier love interest of Davis.

    The full transcript of Emilie Davis’ writings are available at davisdiaries.villanova.edu.

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