Davidson, Thomas Whitfield (1876–1974)

By: Robert S. LaForte

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: June 29, 2019

T. Whitfield (Whit) Davidson, jurist and politician, was born in the East Texas piney woods of Harrison County on September 23, 1876, to John Ransom and Sara Josephine (Daniels) Whitfield, who had moved to the area from Georgia in 1867. Davis attended the region's country schools, briefly went to East Texas State Normal College, and attended the University of Chicago and Columbia University. He subsequently taught for five years in the public schools of Marshall, during which time he read law; he was admitted to the state bar in 1903. In addition to practicing privately in Marshall and Dallas, he served as city attorney for Marshall from 1907 to 1914; Texas state senator, 1920 to 1922; lieutenant governor, 1923 to 1925; and general counsel for the Praetorians, a Dallas insurance company, 1927 to 1936. In February 1936 he was appointed United States district judge, Northern District of Texas, Dallas. He retired in 1965 but remained involved in naturalization and citizenship activities.

Davidson was a member of the "Immortal Forty," the Texas delegation that supported Woodrow Wilson at the Democratic national convention in 1912. He organized and served as president of the Associated Roosevelt Clubs of Texas in 1932 and was again a national convention delegate. As lieutenant governor in 1923, he emphasized highway construction and penal reform and was a foe of the Ku Klux Klan. He was defeated in the nine-candidate Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1924 but subsequently endorsed and supported Miriam Amanda Ferguson in her successful runoff campaign against Felix Robertson, the Klan-backed candidate. Among the many cases Davidson heard on the federal bench, the most important was that dealing with public school integration in Dallas. Although reluctant to rule for integration, he issued the judgment in Borders v. Rippy that began the process of desegregation in Dallas in 1960.

Judge Davidson was active in various bar associations, the International Order of Odd Fellows, the Sons of the American Revolution, the Town and Gown Club of Dallas, and the Writers' Club of Dallas. He was president of the Texas Bar Association (see STATE BAR OF TEXAS) in 1927 and a past grand master of the Texas Odd Fellows. He wrote a memoir and seven books on law, history, folklore, and genealogy. He was an Episcopalian. He was married to Asenath Burkhart in 1902, Constance Key Wandel in 1936, and Beulah Rose in 1949. Davidson died on January 25, 1974, and was interred at Josephine Davidson Memorial Chapel in Diana, Texas, a chapel he built in 1955 in honor of his mother.

Who Was Who in America, Vol. 6. Norman D. Brown, Hood, Bonnet, and Little Brown Jug: Texas Politics, 1921–1928 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1984). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Judges
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert S. LaForte, “Davidson, Thomas Whitfield,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/davidson-thomas-whitfield.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 29, 2019

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