BY WALTER OPINDE
Born on 1st July, 1877, in Washington, D.C., towards the end of the Reconstruction period, Benjamin Oliver Davis became the first African-American to ever serve as a General in the U.S. Military.
After his service as a volunteer during the Spanish-American War of 1898, Benjamin enlisted as a private in Troop I, in the 9th Cavalry of the Regular U.S. Arm. Within two years, he rose to the level of a Sergeant Major and earned a commission in 1901 as a second lieutenant. Over his next four decades in the military service, Benjamin served in Philippines and Liberia and also lectured on military science at Wilberforce University and Tuskegee Institute.
Benjamin Davis gradually rose to authority via many different ranks, thereby becoming the first African-American Colonel in the military in 1930. By 1940, Oliver got a promotion to Brigadier General by President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1941, after commanding the Second Cavalry Division, he was assigned to serve at the office of the Inspector General of the Army.
During the period of transition from the 19th century to the 20th century, very many black soldiers were never happy with the kind of discriminations they encountered from their white counterparts. They were, in many cases, excluded from the combat duties, even when they felt they could do better than the white soldiers. The only man who would later bring this stereotype to an end was an influential and respected member of the black community, General Benjamin Davis. He often offered advice and counselled his white counterparts on how this tense situation could be managed. His primary advice and option was the full integration of the U.S. Troops. Benjamin served in the European theater, during World War II, as a special advisor on racial matters. Following several years of service in the military, he was given the advisory role in the Army where he served as the chief advisor for the military operations relating to the racial discrimination. Under this role, Benjamin pushing for complete integration of the armed forces. Due to his iconic role, he earned a Distinguished Service Medal and Bronze Star Medal.
Benjamin retired from the military service in 1948 after a five-decade service to his country. He died on 26th November, 1970 of Leukemia. Out of his three children, his son Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., pursued his footsteps, also serving in the military and becoming a General in the U.S. Air Force.
Read more of the story via: http://www.history.army.mil/html/topics/afam/davis.html
Fletcher, E. Marvin. (1989). America’s First General: Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., 1877-1970. Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas.
Lee, Ulysses. (1966, 1986, 1990). The Employment of Negro Troops. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History
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