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
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.