Remembered for his groundbreaking legal work during the American Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th Century, he contributed to the demise of the unjust "separate but equal" doctrine and championed legislation that secured equal employment and voting rights for African Americans.
After earning his J.D., he practiced law in Virginia and became the first, post- Reconstruction-era African American to serve on the Richmond City Council.
Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, a Virginia lawsuit in which he was involved, was one of the cases ruled on by the United States Supreme Court during the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education proceedings.
Born Oliver White, he later adopted his stepfather's last name. He was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and in the cities of Richmond and Roanoke, Virginia.
While attending the Howard University School of Law during the 1930s, he became a close friend of fellow law student and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.