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Davis, Benjamin O., Sr.

Davis, Benjamin O., Sr. (1880–1970), first black general.Born the son of a U.S. government worker in Washington, D.C., Davis attended Howard University, then in the Spanish‐American War helped recruit a company for the 8th U.S. Volunteer Infantry as a lieutenant. In 1899, after demobilization, he enlisted as a private in one of the army's traditional black cavalry units. Two years later, he passed a competitive examination and was commissioned a lieutenant in a black regiment. For the next three decades, Davis served in a number of positions—most of them designed to keep him from commanding white officers or white troops in the segregated army. These assignments included military attaché to Liberia, military science instructor at Wilberforce University and at Tuskegee Institute, and instructor with the Ohio and New York National Guard.

In 1930, Davis became the first black colonel. One week before the 1940 presidential election, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Davis a brigadier general, the army's first black general. In World War II, Davis headed a special section of the Inspector General's Department dealing with racial issues involving U.S. troops. During the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, he convinced Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to accept the integration of black platoons into white units, a temporary breakthrough in the army's traditional segregation by regiment.

Davis retired in 1948 after fifty years of service. His son, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., became America's first black lieutenant general. In 1998, the 85‐year‐old retired general was awarded a fourth star by President Bill Clinton.
[See also African Americans in the Military.]

Bibliography

Bernard C. Nalty , Strength for the Fight: A History of Black Americans in the Military, 1986.
Marvin E. Fletcher , America's First Black General: Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., 1880–1970, 1989.

Clement Alexander Price

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Davis, Benjamin Oliver

Benjamin Oliver Davis, 1877–1970, American general, b. Washington, D.C. After studying (1897–98) at Howard Univ., Davis served as a lieutenant in the Spanish-American War and in 1899 enlisted in the regular army as a private. He subsequently rose through years of service to become (1940) the first African-American general in the U.S. army. After the World War II he served as assistant inspector general. He retired in 1948.

See M. Fletcher, America's First Black General (1989).

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