Rayfield Davis

Background

On March 7, 1948, Rayfield Davis, a 53-year-old janitor at Brookley Air Force Base in Mobile, Alabama, was beaten to death by Horace M. Miller, a 20-year-old mechanic who also worked at the base. After Davis boasted that blacks and whites would soon be equal, Miller became so enraged that he beat Davis to death. Responding police officers reported that Davis’s body was in poor condition and looked to have been “very badly beaten” and likely “struck with a heavy instrument.”

On the evening of the incident, Davis got off of a Mobile city bus near his home. Miller disembarked from the bus at this same stop and followed Davis home. Newspaper articles suggest that Davis had invited Miller to join him for a few beers at his home. Miller responded by expressing outrage that a black man had invited him to socialize. Davis then told Miller that, in light of the recently announced changes in civil rights policy promised by President Truman, blacks would soon be equal to whites. Miller responded by beating Davis – first with his fists and then with his feet until Davis stopped moving. Miller abandoned Davis’ body in a drainage ditch on the side of the railroad tracks and Davis’s body was found later that evening.

The following evening, Miller, accompanied by his attorney, turned himself in to the police and provided them with a written confession. Miller also claimed that he had not known of Davis’ death until he read the newspaper the following day.

Legal Status

Miller was held and charged with homicide. He was released on bail. At his appearance before the grand jury, Miller’s attorney read into the record a confession from his client. Following testimony from the responding police officers and the witness that found Davis’s body, the county coroner reported that Davis’ death was caused by several fatal blows to his head, likely by someone wielding a deadly weapon, such as a blackjack, heavy club or brass knuckles.

The grand jury failed to indict Miller. Following the non-indictment, Mobile papers reported that Miller’s friends and family in Mississippi where he lived were set to host a banquet in Miller’s honor in order to “relieve him of this terrible ordeal.”

Some time after the initial grand jury proceedings, the local NAACP unsuccessfully sought to obtain a warrant against Miller.