Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Davis, Benjamin Oliver, Sr. (1877–1970)

Title: Benjamin Oliver Davis Sr.
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U.S. Army general and first African American general in the U.S. military. Born 1 July 1877 in Washington D.C., Benjamin O. Davis enrolled at Howard University in 1897 but left school the next year to join the Eighth U.S. Volunteer Regiment. As a lieutenant during the Spanish-American War, he saw no action, but in 1899 he enlisted as a private in the regular army. Davis was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 10th U.S. Cavalry in 1901. He was military attaché to Liberia (1909–1911), professor of military science at Wilberforce University (1906–1911, 1915–1917, 1929–1930, and 1937–1938), supply officer for the 9th Cavalry in the Philippines (1917–1920), instructor with the Ohio National Guard (1924–1928), and professor of military science at Tuskegee Institute (1921–1924 and 1931–1937).

At the beginning of World War II, Davis was one of only two African American officers in the combatant arms of the U.S. Army. The other was his son, Benjamin O. Davis Jr. In October 1940, on the recommendation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Davis was promoted to brigadier general. He was the first African American to obtain the rank in U.S. military history.

Davis retired from the army in 1941 but was recalled to active duty as an assistant to the Inspector General of the Army, serving in the European Theater of Operations as an adviser on race relations. At the same time, he fought to end segregation and discrimination within the armed forces. Davis remained in the Inspector General's office until his final retirement in 1948. He continued to speak for desegregation in the military, which was achieved when President Harry S Truman ordered full integration of the U.S. armed forces.

In the years following his retirement from the military, Davis served on numerous civilian boards and the Battle Monuments Commission. He died in Chicago on 26 November 1970.

Nicholas W. Barcheski


Further Reading
Astor, Gerald. The Right to Fight: A History of African-Americans in the Military. Navato, CA: Presidio, 1998.; Fletcher, Marvin. America's First Black General: Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989.
 

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