Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr. grew up in a military family with a history of firsts. His father, after whom he was named, was the first African-American general in the U.S. Army.
Davis decided he would become a pilot at age 13, after a plane ride at a barnstorming exhibition at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C. After earning a degree at the University of Chicago, Illinois Rep. Oscar De Priest sponsored him for a spot at West Point.
His time at the prestigious military academy was very lonely. According to the web site Great Black Heroes, none of his fellow cadets would speak to him outside of the line of duty, nor would they socialize or room with him because of his race. That gave Davis plenty of time to focus on his studies and his goal, and he graduated near the top of his class — finishing 35th out of 278.
In 1941, Davis became one of 13 cadets at Tuskegee Institute to participate in the first flight training program for Blacks and received his wings the following year. In 1954, he became the first African-American to attend the Air War College, a move necessary to move higher than the rank of colonel. He was then assigned to the Pentagon. After years of being shunned and silenced by white classmates and fellow soldiers, he soon found himself among white officers and enlisted men when he was quickly appointed chief of the Air Defense Branch of Air Force operations.
Davis went on to supervise thousands of airmen during the Korean War and later became director of operations and training in Far East Air Forces. On Oct. 27, 1954, he received the rank of brigadier general, making him the Air Force's first Black officer to make that grade.
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(Photo: Courtesy history.navy.mil)
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