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|Benjamin O. Davis
the first black General in U.S. Army history
Benjamin Oliver Davis was born in Washington, D.C., on July 1, 1877. He enrolled at Howard University in 1897, but left the following year to serve in the Spanish-American War as First Lieutenant of Volunteers. Discharged from the Volunteers in 1899, he then enlisted as a Private in the 9th Cavalry Regiment (one of the original Buffalo Soldier regiments) of the Regular Army. During his service in the Philippines, he rose rapidly through the ranks to a commission as a Second Lieutenant in 1901.
Promoted to First Lieutenant in 1905, Davis was detailed to Wilberforce University as Professor of Military Tactics, where he remained for four years. Following a brief tour of duty at Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont, he was detailed as military attaché to Monrovia, Liberia, serving from 1909 to 1912. After three years on garrison duty and border patrol duty in the West, he returned to Wilberforce, with the rank of Captain. In 1917, Davis was temporarily promoted to Major and assigned to the Philippines as Supply Officer of the 9th Cavalry, where he served until 1920. During this tour he advanced to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. This tour was followed by assignment as Professor of Military Tactics at Tuskegee Institute, where he remained until 1924, when he became Instructor of the 372nd Infantry of the Ohio National Guard, at Cleveland, Ohio. He returned to Wilberforce in 1929.
Promoted to Colonel in 1930, Davis was detailed on special duty with the U.S. Department of State in connection with affairs relating to the Republic of Liberia.
Davis spent the next several years alternating between teaching at Tuskegee and Wilberforce. During the summers of 1930 and 1933, he was placed on detached service for duty with the Pilgrimage of War Mothers and Widows. His work on this assignment earned him letters of commendation from the Secretary of War and from the Quartermaster General.
In 1938, he was given his first independent command, that of the 369th New York National Guard Infantry Regiment. On October 25, 1940, he became the first black soldier to hold the rank of General in the Army (officially, he held the temporary rank of Brigadier General). He was then assigned to command of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade at Fort Riley, Kansas. In 1941, he took command of the 4th Cavalry Brigade at Camp Funston, Kansas.
Davis retired on July 31, 1941, but was recalled to active duty with the permanent rank of Brigadier General the next day and assigned to the Office of the Inspector General of the Army. In 1942 he was assigned to the European Theater of Operations as advisor on race relations in the Army. Upon completion of this assignment he resumed his duties in the Inspector General's office. In 1944 he became Special Assistant to the Commanding General of the Communications Zone in the European Theater of Operations, stationed in Paris, France. In 1946, following a brief period of detached service for the purposes of rest and relaxation, he again became Special Assistant to the Inspector General. He retired again from the Army on July 14, 1948, after fifty years of service.
Benjamin O. Davis died in Chicago, Illinois, on November 26, 1970. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Honors received by Davis during his career include the Bronze Star, the Distinguished Service Medal, the French Croix de Guerre, and the Liberian Star of Africa.
Davis' son, Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr., also became a General in the U.S. Army.
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This page was last updated on April 18, 2017.