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Displaying items by tag: davenport

Wednesday, 13 March 2024 21:03

The Venezuelan Volcano

Hollywood stars have a wide range of backgrounds. One star in particular has a connection to Montgomery County. Burnu Aquanetta, also known as the Venezuelan Volcano, was a rising star in the early 1940s. She originally told agents she was from Venezuela, hence the nickname Venezuela Volcano.

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Norristown Times Herald, October 17, 1942, HSMC Microfilm Collection

Aquanetta was a model in New York City when she was first discovered by a publicity agent. She also attracted the attention of columnist Elsa Maxwell at the El Morrocco night club. Maxwell helped to introduce Aquanetta to people in Hollywood.

When one agent asked to see her Venezuelan passport, Aquanetta admitted she had never been to Venezuela. She then claimed she was born in Wyoming and her parents, members of the Arapaho Tribe, died when she was young. She went on to claim she was adopted by another member of the tribe named Linda, but ultimately ran away when she was a teenager. Her story continued that she followed a gypsy camp until she finally ended up in New York.

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Norristown Times Herald, October 17, 1942, HSMC Microfilm Collection

There were also stories circulated at Universal Studios that Aquanetta was born in the West and adopted by New England artists Don and Ann Brothers. This story continued by saying she was a member of the Narragansett Tribe.

Ultimately, on October 17, 1942, an article in the Norristown Times Herald revealed Burnu Aquanetta's real name was Mildred Davenport. The article described her as "the girl who fooled Hollywood". She lived on Green Street in Norristown and graduated from Norristown High School in 1938. Some of you may remember a 2022 blog post I wrote about her brother, Judge Horace A. Davenport.

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Norristown Times Herald, October 17, 1942, HSMC Microfilm Collection

So why did she make up the stories about being Venezuelan and Native American? The most common explanation I found was that she wanted to work in Hollywood, but did not want to be turned away for being African American.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 10 February 2022 14:20

Judge Horace A. Davenport

Horace A. Davenport was born in Newberry, South Carolina on February 22, 1919. Like many Black families in the Southern United States at this time, Davenport's family was part of the Great Migration. They moved to Bridgeport when he was four years old. When he was 12, Davenport temporarily moved back to Newberry to live with his paternal grandparents. By age 14, Davenport moved to Norristown and graduated from Norristown High School in 1938.

Davenport

Davenport attended Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC on a football scholarship. However, he was drafted to the US Army a few weeks before graduation. As an engineer during World War II, Davenport built and maintained airfields in New Caledonia. He also saw action in Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Soi Pan.

After serving in the army, Davenport completed his BA at Howard University. He went on to earn a Master of Science in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1947 and a Bachelor of Law from Penn Law School in 1950. He passed the Bar in 1951.

After being rejected for jobs because he was Black, Davenport decided to set up a private practice on Swede Street near the Montgomery County Courthouse. He handled cases in criminal and civil law. Davenport eventually served as solicitor for the Norristown Area School District, the Norristown Area School Authority, and the Central Montgomery County Vocational-Technical School. By 1971, Davenport was part of the law firm Gerber, Davenport, and Wilenzik. Davenport's primary focus at this time was school law.

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Times Herald, November 5, 1975

By 1975, he became the first African-American judge on Montgomery County's Common Pleas Court. Judge Davenport served on the 38th Judicial District. He became a senior judge in 1989. Judge Davenport became renowned for his ability to settle cases outside the courtroom, which reduced the backlog from 4,000 to 400 cases. This cut the wait times for civil trial from two years to less than six months.

In 2001, the Montgomery County Bar Association opened its first dispute resolution center and named it after Judge Davenport. He was eventually forced to retire in 2003 when the PA State Supreme Court revised the mandatory retirement age for judges to 80 years old. Judge Davenport was 84 at this time.

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Times Herald, January 6, 1976

Outside the courtroom, Judge Davenport participated in many community organizations, including the La Mott Historical Society where he served as President. His wife Alice also made history when she became the first Black teacher in the Norristown Area School District in 1950. 

Judge Davenport died on March 21, 2017 at the age of 98.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Otoole, Stephen. Newly retired judge reflects on career, life,” The Reporter, January 5, 2003. https://www.thereporteronline.com/2003/01/05/newly-retired-judge-reflects-on-career-life/

Jones, Ayana. “Horace A. Davenport, 98, Montco judge.” The Philadelphia Tribune, April 7, 2017. https://www.phillytrib.com/obituaries/horace-a-davenport-98-montco-judge/article_f907a407-3a3f-58fe-b865-54a22a27ad78.html

Published in Found in Collection