Rising through the ranks, Benjamin O. Davis Sr. became U.S. Military’s first black flag officer in October 1940.
Davis Sr. became the first African American to hold star rank in the U.S. Army and in the armed forces. He was promoted to brigadier general to achieve that feat.
His promotion was ‘temporary’ – a situation which was prevalent for black officers during Davis’s days. He was subsequently ‘temporarily’ promoted to major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel.
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Born in Washington in 1877, Davies Sr. first entered the military as a temporary first lieutenant on July 13, 1898, during the Spanish-American War, according to his biography and mustered out in 1899 but he enlisted as a private six months later.
Within two years, he was made a second lieutenant of cavalry in the regular Army. Davis became known for the famed “Buffalo Soldiers” regiment in the Philippines and Mexican border.
In a bid to avoid putting Davis in command of white troops or officers, he was assigned as a college instructor at the Tuskegee Institute and at Wilberforce University. He was a National Guard advisor, as well as, the military attache to Liberia yet he rose slowly through the ranks, becoming the first black colonel in the army in 1930.
Ten years later in 1940, he was promoted to brigadier general by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The following year, he commanded the 2nd Cavalry Division in 1941 and was assigned to the office of the inspector general of the army.
During World War II, he headed a special unit charged with safeguarding the status and morale of black soldiers in the army, and he served in the European theatre as a special advisor on race relations.
In 1948 after 50 years of service, Davis Sr. retired but he seems to have passed on the historical baton to his son Benjamin O. Davies Junior.
His rise in the Army paved the way for numerous minority men and women, as well as, his son Davis Jr., who became only the second African-American general in the U.S. military and the first in the Air Force in 1954.
Pilot, officer, and administrator, Davies Junior, a West Point graduate was among the first group of African Americans admitted to the Army Air Corps and to pilot training.
In 1943 he also organized and commanded the 332nd Fighter Group (the Tuskegee Airmen) and by the end of the war Davis had flown 60 combat missions and had been promoted to colonel.
He aided in planning the desegregation of the air force in 1948. After commanding a fighter wing in the Korean War, like his father, Davies was promoted to brigadier general (a two-star general) in 1954. In the year that followed Davis became the first African American officer to reach the rank of major general (a two-star general) in the air force and was promoted to lieutenant general (a three-star general) in 1965.
He was named director of civil aviation security in the U.S. Department of Transportation when he retired in 1970, developing and leading procedures that successfully saw an end to a wave of aircraft hijackings in the United States.
Davis surpassed his father to even become an assistant secretary of transportation in 1971 and received many decorations all through his career, including two Distinguished Service Medals and a Silver Star.
He was the first African American to be honoured in retirement. On December 9, 1998, Davis became a general of the highest order within the U.S. military when he was awarded his fourth general’s star.