Opening up the Military

Benjamin Davis, Sr. was born in Washington DC in 1880. He was the grandson of slaves. While in high school, he became infatuated with the military. While his parents wanted him to go to college, he had other ideas. He lied about his age and joined the military.

His early career in the military was limited by his race. He was assigned to segregated military units which the Army was reluctant to use in battle. When he became a Buffalo Soldier, he began to move up the ranks. After he met Lt. Charles Young, the only African American officer in the Army, he decided to take the test to qualify to become an officer.

His career involved a diverse set of assignments, including combat duty, college professor of military science, and military attaché to Liberia. In 1940 he became the first African American to be promoted to the rank of brigadier general.

It was his efforts that led to the eventual integration of the military. During World War II, he became an advocate for the use of African American troops as replacement units for what were then all-white units on the front lines.

In 1948 General Davis retired after 50 years of service. His retirement ceremony was hosted by President Truman. Six days later President Truman signed an executive order abolishing racial discrimination in the military.

While General Davis was limited in his ability to serve his country in combat, he served his country even more by opening up the military to generations of African Americans to follow. One of those was General Benjamin Davis, Jr., his son and the commander of the Tuskegee Airman Hidden heroes are often those who enable others to have opportunities that were denied to them. General Davis could have been known as a brilliant military commander during battles, but that opportunity was denied to him. But the battles he fought for racial justice in the military are even more important and quietly heroic.

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            “Until racial justice and freedom is a reality in this land, our union will remain profoundly imperfect.” – Hubert H. Humphrey (U.S. Senator)

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