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James, Daniel "Chappie"

James, Daniel "Chappie"

February 11, 1920
February 25, 1978

The first black four-star general, Daniel "Chappie" James Jr. joined Tuskegee's pioneer black Army Air Corps unit in 1937. He served in World War II and led a fighter group in Korea, inventing air tactics to support ground forces and receiving the Distinguished Service Medal. In Vietnam he was vice commander of the Eighth Tactical Fighter Wing, earning the Legion of Merit award. National attention accompanied his speeches supporting the war and black soldiers' reasons to fight.

Afterward he commanded Wheelus Air Force Base in Libya, then became Defense Department public affairs officer and a popular speaker. He received his fourth star with command of the crucial North American Air Defense, monitoring possible air and missile attacks.

Skills and overwhelming personality smoothed James's unprecedented ascent. Generally opposed to mass movements to improve blacks' situation, he cited his mother's dictum that personal excellence could overcome all barriers. He applauded peaceful demonstrations, however; indeed, the violence at Selma, Alabama, made him consider resigning. He brushed off personal experiences with racism, although he seldom wore civilian clothes so his uniform might shield him. Blacks sometimes criticized him, but many Americans liked his support of the Vietnam War and his view of race relations that emphasized individualism.

See also Military Experience, African-American; Tuskegee University


Bracey, Earnest M. Daniel "Chappy" James: The First African American Four Star General. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2003.

McGovern, James R. Black Eagle: General Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr. University: University of Alabama Press, 1985.

Phelps, J. Alfred. Chappie: America's First Black Four-Star General: The Life and Times of Daniel James, Jr. Novato, Calif.: Presidio, 1991.

elizabeth fortson arroyo (1996)
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