Benjamin Oliver Davis was born on July 1, 1877, in Washington, D.C. A grandson of a slave who purchased his freedom in 1800, Davis was raised in the nation’s capital by his parents, Louis P. H. Davis and Henriette Steward Davis. A graduate of Howard University in 1898, he entered military service during the Spanish-American War, serving in the 8th United States Volunteers Infantry. After the war, he was part of the all-black 9th Cavalry from 1899 to 1917. Promoted to 1st lieutenant on March 30, 1905, Davis was sent to Wilberforce University, Ohio, as a professor of military science and tactics until 1909. He was assigned as military attaché to Monrovia, Liberia, until 1912. His official tour of duty with the regular United States Army began in 1918. In 1920, Davis was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He taught military science at the Tuskegee Institute at Alabama, where he remained until 1924. On October 16, 1940, Davis was promoted to brigadier general, becoming the first black to reach that rank. In 1944, Davis was actively involved in implementing a racially-integrated Army. He retired from military service in 1948, but continued his efforts to achieve desegregation of armed forces facilities in Europe. Davis received many awards during his military career, including the Distinguished Service Medal and the Bronze Star. He died on November 26, 1970, in Chicago, Illinois, but is still remembered today for his outstanding contributions to the U.S. military, as well as to the black community.
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