Benjamin O. Davis Sr., the first African-American general in the United States Army, was born in Chicago on July 1, 1877.
After graduating from Howard University, Davis joined the military at age 21 in 1898. He started as a volunteer during the Spanish-American War, and soon became second lieutenant in the regular army in 1901.
He constantly had to battle segregation, and he sought to eradicate this prejudice from the U.S. military.
While Davis was in command of some troops, his superiors avoided putting him in charge of any white troops and officers.
In 1930, although Davis became the first black colonel in the army, his appointment was still thought of as “temporary” because he was black. Many other promotions were also “temporary” just so he wasn’t ever actually in control over anyone who was white.
In 1940, Davis was promoted to brigadier general by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, though some speculated that FDR did this only because he needed more black votes in the next election.
However, others realized Davis’ merits. Besides organizing the 99th Pursuit Squadron, the first completely African American air unit, Davis flew more than 60 combat missions over the course of the war and was promoted to colonel.
With his success commanding his troops, he was asked to be a professor of military science and tactics at Wilberforce University in Ohio and at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
During his 40 years of military service, David returned several times to these two universities to teach others, and he also advised on African-American issues in Europe, resulting in a limited integration of the forces in Europe during World War II.
After serving for 50 years, Davis retired in 1948 with a Bronze Star, Distinguished Service Medal and a Silver Star.
Davis was also a four-star general, the highest rank in the U.S. military. After his retirement, he advised on racial discrimination for the military.
For more information, see britannica.com/biography/Benjamin-O-Davis-Jr.