This Day in the Law
October 27

Benjamin Davis, Jr. Becomes First African-American General in U.S. Military (1954)

On October 27, 1954, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. became the first African-American General in the United States military. In particular, Davis was promoted to the temporary rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force.

Davis was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1932. He earned his commission as an infantry officer and in the early 1940s became one of the first African-Americans admitted as a pilot in the Army Air Corps (i.e. the precursor to the U.S. Air Force).

Davis is most notably remembered for organizing the Tuskegee Airmen – the first group of black pilots that trained and engaged in air warfare during WWII. In fact, Davis’ Tuskegee Airmen performed remarkably well against the German Luftwaffe. The Tuskegee Airmen, trained in Tuskegee, Alabama, flew over 15,000 sorties, shot down over 100 enemy planes, and damaged or destroyed hundreds more. The Tuskegee Airmen’s performance impressed President Truman and the black pilots were instrumental in creating racial integration in the armed forces.

Davis even helped President Truman draft the plan for implementing racial integration into the newly created U.S. Air Force – the first military branch to do so.

Today, Benjamin Davis is regarded as an icon of air power within the U.S. Air Force and military. Davis retired as a three-star general in the Air Force in 1970. Then, nearly thirty years later in 1998, President Clinton awarded Davis his forth-star – raising him to the rank of full general – for his monumental accomplishments in the face of adversity throughout his military career.