Friday, February 22, 2013
Today In Black History - Benjamin O. Davis, Sr
Davis was born on July 1, 1877 in Washington, D.C. Little is known about his early life, but his family was comfortably middle-class, he attended the M Street High School, and went on to enter college in 1897 at Howard University. The Spanish-American War was officially declared on April 25, 1898. Davis left school to volunteer for service, joining the 8th U.S. Volunteer Infantry as a First Lieutenant. The experience must have agreed with the young man, because immediately upon mustering out of the volunteer corps in 1899 he enlisted in the Regular Army, joining the 9th U.S. Cavalry as a Private. He was stationed at Fort Duchesne, Utah.
Davis made fast initial progress through the ranks, and received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in 1901. He was assigned to duty in the Philippine Islands, still with the 9th Cavalry, but was then reassigned to the 10th Cavalry and returned with that unit to the U.S. where he served as Adjutant at Fort Washakie, Wyoming. He was promoted to First Lieutenant in 1905, and in September of that year was appointed a Professor of Military Science and Tactics at Wilberforce University in Ohio. Davis remained there until 1909, followed by a brief tour of duty at Fort Ethan Allen in Vermont, when he was detailed to Monrovia, Liberia as Military Attaché.
Davis returned to the U.S. after three years duty in Africa in 1912, at which time he was posted to garrison and border patrol duty in the West, including Wyoming and the Arizona Territory. The year 1915 brought him back to Wilberforce. In 1917, he began another three-year tour of duty in the Philippines as Supply Officer, during which time he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
The First Black General
Davis retired in 1948 with 50 years of loyal service. That same year, President Harry S. Truman issued an order which forbade discriminatory practices in the armed forces, relying on the foundation built by Davis’ work. He died in Chicago, Illinois on November 26, 1970, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. He was awarded an honorary L.L.D. Degree from Atlanta University, the Croix de Guerre with Palm from France, and the Grade of Commander of the Order of the Star of Africa from Liberia. His decorations and honors included the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Service Medal for “…exceptionally meritorious service to the Government in a duty of great responsibility… on matters pertaining to Negro troops. The initiative, intelligence, and sympathetic understanding displayed by him in conducting countless investigations concerning individual soldiers, troop units and other components of the War Department brought about a fair and equitable solution to many important problems which have since become the basis of far-reaching War Department policy.”
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