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
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.
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