Benjamin O. Davis was the first African-American to hold the rank of general officer in the United States Army.
He was born and raised in Washington, D.C where he attended high school and was enrolled at Howard University.
He entered military service in July 1898 as a temporary first lieutenant in the 8th United States Volunteer Infantry, an African-American unit, for the Spanish-American War. He served stateside during the war and was mustered out on March 6, 1899. In June 1899, he enlisted as a private in the 9th Cavalry Regiment. He served as the clerk for I Troop and later as squadron sergeant major.
He was encouraged to apply for a commission by Lieutenant Charles Young, the only serving African-American officer. Young encouraged Davis’s ambition to become an officer. He sat for and passed the exams in early 1901. On February 2, 1901, he was commissioned a second lieutenant of Cavalry in the Regular Army.
In the spring of 1901, he went overseas with I Troop to the Philippines. In August 1901, he was assigned to Troop F, 10th Cavalry, which was also in the Philippines. Troop F returned to the US in August 1902 and was posted to Fort Washakie, Wyoming.
In September 1905, he went to Wilberforce University as a Professor of Military Science and Tactics. He remained there until 1909 when he was appointed military attache in Monrovia, Liberia. He returned to the United States in 1911 and was again assigned to Troop I of the 9th Cavalry.
In February 1915, he returned to Wilberforce University. From 1917 to 1920, he was back with the 9th Cavalry in the Philippines. He was then assigned to Tuskegee Institute as the professor of military science and tactics from 1920 to 1924. Between 1925 and 1937, he rotated through instructor positions at Wilberforce, Tuskegee and with the Ohio National Guard.
He was assigned to the 369th Regiment of the New York National Guard in 1938 and became its commander shortly thereafter. He was promoted to brigadier general on October 25, 1940.
He was made commanding general of 4th Brigade, 2nd Cavalry Division in January 1941. He then served as an advisor on Negro Troop Policies in the Office of Inspector General. From 1941 to 1944, he made inspection tours of African-American units in the US and Europe.
In November 1944, he was assigned as special assistant to the commanding general, Communications Zone, European Theater of Operations. He then served with the Inspector General’s Office in the European Theater of Operation.
He returned to Washington, D.C. in 1947 as assistant to the inspector general and was then assigned as a special assistant to the Secretary of the Army. On July 20, 1948, he retired in a public ceremony six days prior to President Truman ordering full integration of the armed forces.
He died on November 26, 1970 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.