In honor of Black History Month, we want to highlight a member of the Armed Forces who fought against all odds to become a major role in the acceptance of Black Americans in the military; GEN Benjamin O. Davis Jr.
Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr. was born in Washington. D.C. on December 18, 1912. His father (Benjamin O. Davis Sr.) was the first Black General in the United States Army. Benjamin, Sr. served in the military in various capacities, to include the Spanish-American War and serving in the original Buffalo Soldier regiments. Certainly, there was lineage for Davis Jr. to live up to, and he did it with applause.
Davis, Jr. attended the University of Chicago before being accepted into the Military Academy in 1932. Davis Jr. was the first black cadet to attend West Point in the 20th Century, and only the fourth black cadet to graduate at the time that he accepted his commission for Second Lieutenant. Davis Jr. ranked number 35 in his class of 276. Unfortunately, when he enrolled in the institute, Davis Jr. soon experienced intense institutional prejudice. During his time at West Point, he lived the entire experience without a single fellow service-member speaking to him outside of what was deemed necessary by the institute. However, Davis Jr. patiently kept his eye on the prize, despite these unfortunate experiences. Soon after, he would note many of his personal encounters: “It was designed to make me buckle, but I refused to buckle. They didn’t understand that I was going to stay there. That I was going to graduate.” By the time he graduated and became commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, the Army had only two black line officers; Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., and his father before him.
Because of his excellent standing amongst his peers, Davis Jr. should have been guaranteed an assignment of his choosing. However, he decided to apply for the Army Air Corps, in which he was denied because a Black squadron did not exist during that time. Instead, he was assigned to the 24th Infantry Regiment, which was an all-Black division in Georgia. In addition to this, and even though he was an officer, he was not allowed entrance to any officers clubs. On June 19, 1939, he had earned the rank of First Lieutenant and soon after, Captain.
In 1943, he commanded the 332nd Fighter Group (the Tuskegee Airmen). Davis himself flew at least 60 combat missions and soon after was promoted to Colonel. After the war, Davis held other commands, and helped plan desegregation within the U.S. Air Force. Davis Jr. graduated from the Air War College in 1950, went on to command a fighter wing in the Korean War, and then earned the rank of Brigadier General in 1954. In 1959, Davis became the first Black American to reach the rank of Major General in the U.S. Air Force, and six years later, he was promoted to Lieutenant General.
After he retired in 1970, he was named Director of Civil Aviation Security in the U.S. Department of Transportation. While he was leading the security group, he coordinated and calculated the end of a pandemic of aircraft hijackings in the United States. Later on, Davis Jr. became an Assistant Secretary of Transportation in 1971. Davis received many awards, including two Distinguished Service Medals and a Silver Star. In 1998, Davis Jr. was awarded his fourth general’s star. "