University Press of Kansas Logo

America's First Black General

Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., 1880-1970

Marvin E. Fletcher

Introduction by Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.

248 pages, illustrated, 6 x 9
Modern War Studies
Paper ISBN 978-0-7006-0963-5, $15.95

Book Cover ImageThroughout an illustrious career that spanned the half-century from the Spanish-American War through World War II, Benjamin O. Davis proved that determination and diplomacy could overcome the barriers raised by racial bigotry.

Today there are as many as 10,000 black officers in the army. In Davis's day there weren't more than two or three. As Marvin Fletcher's admiring but balanced portrait shows, this enormous change owes not a little to the persistent efforts and quiet dignity of Benjamin O. Davis. Davis helped "lay the foundation for the integration of the armed forces, the first major break in the wall of segregated America."

Born into the black middle class of Washington, D.C., Davis maintained a lifelong love for the military, despite the debilitating effects of the army's segregation policies. Such policies repeatedly denied Davis promotions and meant " safe assignments"--Liberia, Tuskegee Institute, Wilberforce University-- designed to keep him from commanding white troops. It took thirty years from his enlistment until his promotion to colonel, and another decade before he became America's first black general

Promoted to brigadier general at the start of World War II, Davis headed a special section that monitored black military units at home and overseas, investigated an increasing number of racial disturbances, and bolstered the black soldier's morale. He was largely responsible for persuading the Army to try a limited form of integration. The success of that effort led to a federal mandate for the integration of the entire American armed forces.

"This splendid study of the first black Army officer to attain flag rank is also a powerful analysis of race relations in the U.S. Army from 1910 through World War II."--Military Review

"Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., was a remarkable man. When one considers the obstacles, his achievement of being one of just six black officers in the line of the Regular Army in the 86 years from the Civil War to World War II and of becoming the only one to make the rank of brigadier general borders on the incredible. This definitive biography shows why Davis deserves a good deal more than passing comment from historians."--Washington Post Book World

"Davis's life raises questions about an important topic--the extraordinary accomplishments of African-American soldiers on behalf of a country that refused to grant them full rights as citizens or soldiers."--Journal of Southern History

"Beginning his career at the height of the Jim Crow era, Davis lived to wear stars, advise on the integration of the armed forces, and see his son also become a general. Here is a portrait of a remarkable man. Recommended."--American Library Association Booklist

"A 'must read' for anyone interested in the details and personalities involved in the racial integration of the American military."--Airpower Journal

MARVIN E. FLETCHER is professor of history at Ohio University and the author of The Black Soldier and Officer in the United States Army, 1891–1917 and The Peacetime Army, 1900 to 1941: A Research Guide.

Facebook button