Mr. Davis, self-styled World Citizen No. 1, gadfly to official governments and founder of one of his own, died July 24 in Burlington, Vt. He was 91. Newspaper reports of his death became the final installments in the international reportage that chronicled his movements for much of his life.
For a stateless man, Mr. Davis presented a most unusual profile. A son of Meyer Davis, the successful society bandleader, he had grown up in privilege and acted on Broadway before flying B-17 bombers during World War II. The war took his brother’s life and left Mr. Davis a changed man.
“Ever since my first mission over Brandenburg, I had felt pangs of conscience,” he wrote in a memoir. “How many bombs had I dropped? How many men, women and children had I murdered? Wasn’t there another way, I kept asking myself.”
How ‘the fun began’
Mr. Davis settled on a course of action that began one day in May 1948, when he strode into the U.S. Embassy in Paris and renounced his U.S. citizenship.
“I no longer find it compatible with my inner convictions to be a party to the inevitable annihilation of our civilization, by remaining solely loyal to one sovereign nation state,” he said.
“Now you are stateless, Mr. Davis, and on U.S. government property,” Mr. Davis recalled the vice consul responding. “We must ask you to leave.”
Then, Mr. Davis told the Burlington Free Press decades later, “the fun began.”
Several months after his stand at the embassy, Mr. Davis drew international notice when he hauled a makeshift bed to a U.N. meeting in Paris and announced that he would not leave until the body recognized him as “the first citizen of the world.” The United Nations declined to comply.
Undeterred, he began rallying others to his cause. Mr. Davis became a celebrity in Paris, where his speeches reportedly drew crowds in the thousands. His most-noted supporters included physicist Albert Einstein, the existentialist philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre, and author and philosopher Albert Camus.
In 1953, Mr. Davis founded the World Government of World Citizens. He later created the World Service Authority, an executive branch of sorts headquartered in Washington that continues today to issue passports and other documents. To date, 950,000 people are registered as world citizens, according to the organization.
World Service Authority passports, printed in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Chinese and Esperanto, cost $45 for three years of validity, $75 for five years and $100 for eight years. Togo, Mauritania, Ecuador, Zambia, Tanzania and Burkina Faso have accepted the travel documents on “a de juris or juridical basis,” according to the group’s Web site.