Benjamin Oliver Davis, Sr.: First African-American General for the United States Army

0 Posted by - September 28, 2020 - Black First, BLACK MEN, BLACKS IN THE MILITARY, LATEST POSTS

Benjamin Oliver Davis, Sr., was the first African-American general for the U.S. Army. His army career dated from the Spanish-American war to World War ll.

Davis was born on July 1, 1877, in Washington, D.C. Little is known about his early life, but his family was believed to be comfortably middle-class. He graduated from Howard University in 1898 and entered the army after graduation as a volunteer when the Spanish-American War was officially declared on April 25, 1898.

Davis served as part of the 8th U.S. Volunteer Infantry, an-all black unit, as a First Lieutenant. He later enlisted as a private in the 9th U.S. Cavalry, a unit of the regular army, and soon rose to the highest rank held by any Black soldier at the time.

After serving three years duty in Africa, he returned to active duty in the Philippines. Davis was given his own regiment to command, the 369th Cavalry New York National Guard, in 1937. He held the rank of colonel at this time. In 1940, he was promoted to Brigadier General, becoming the first black soldier to hold the rank of General in the Army.

In 1941, he reported for duty as a Brigade Commander with the 2nd Cavalry Division in Fort Riley, Kansas. Later that year, he was assigned duty as Assistant to the Inspector General in Washington, D.C., where he would continue to serve intermittently for the duration of his career.

Davis retired in 1948 after 50 years of military service. After a long battle with leukemia died, Benjamin Oliver Davis died in 1970.




  • Kenneth Highsmith September 14, 2016 - 3:16 pm

    I wonder if there are any documentary stories about his career.


    Gen. Benjamin O. Davis served as US Military Attache in Liberia from 1909-1911, while a colonel, and almost accepted a commission in the Liberian army. Read about his long relationship with Liberia here:
    Historical Preservation Society of Liberia

    BRIG. GENERAL BENJAMIN O. DAVIS SR., U.S. Military Attache in Liberia, 1909-1911.

    Davis was not very impressed with the Liberian army and militia, judging them inept. In his reports to both the US and Liberian governments, he proposed solutions, observing that the Liberian government was unable to control its fighting forces. In April 1911, he saw a mob of 120 soldiers mutiny and threaten the Secretary of War with violence unless they were paid. This group only dispersed when it became clear that no money was available. This strengthened Davis’ view that the army needed to be reorganized. In the 1910 Grebo uprising at Cape Palmas, Davis found the army trying to starve the Grebos into submission. He reported the situation to American Minister Lyon in Monrovia.

    In February 1911 Davis discussed the issue of reforms with Liberian Secretary of State Charles D. B. King. Encouraged by his reception, Davis sent King a memo detailing his plans for the reorganization of the military. For greater efficiency, he recommended that the office of Secretary of War be abolished, and that five American officers be appointed to run the army, including three NCOs and two officers (John E. Green as Quartermaster and Davis as Lieutenant Colonel and Chief of Staff).

    The plan was not adopted, but the Liberians asked Davis if he would accept a commission in the Liberian army. Davis consulted with the US War Department, which took a while since the query raised a constitutional issue. Chief of Staff Leonard Wood informed the Secretary of War that, as an American officer, Davis could not be part of the Liberian army without violating the US Constitution, but could act as an advisor provided he accepted no compensation for his work. However, by the time the US goverment reached this decision, Davis had already left Liberia.
    -From AMERICA’S FIRST BLACK GENERAL, by Marvin Fletcher, University Press of Kansas, 1989, p.42-43

    In 1947, the Liberian government requested that Davis be appointed the American representative to Liberia’s Centennial celebrations. President Harry Truman appointed Davis head of the US delegation on May 22, 1947.

    The aircraft carrier USS Palau and accompanying destroyers left the United States on July 5, 1947 with Davis on board. When the carrier’s band director, Ensign Gabriel Petre asked Davis if he had the sheet music for the Liberian national anthem, Davis said no. The Ensign asked him if he could sing it. Davis sang the anthem several times while the musicians transcribed it. Considering that Davis had not been in Liberia for more than thirty years, recalling the national anthem was an extraordinary feat. The USS Palau pulled alongside the Monrovia dock playing the Liberian national anthem.

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