Oct. 25, 1940
Benjamin O. Davis Sr. became the first Black American promoted to brigadier general in the U.S. Army.
His parents wanted him to head to college after graduating high school, but Davis chose a military career instead. He served in the Spanish-American War in the 8th United States Volunteer Infantry, an all-Black unit.
He overcame rampant prejudice and rose in the ranks. In 1900, he became the first Black American officer, and a year later, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army. He served with the famed “Buffalo Soldiers” regiment in the Philippines, leading to his temporary promotion to lieutenant colonel.
During World War II, he became the Army’s top adviser on race relations and served with the European Theater of Operation. For his stellar work, the Army honored him with the Bronze Star Medal and the Distinguished Service Medal, France awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Palm and Liberia gave him the Grade of Commander of the Order of the Star of Africa.
His important work paved the way for other people of color — just one of six Black officers in the Army between the Civil War to World War II.
On July 20, 1948, after 50 years of military service, Davis retired in a public ceremony with President Harry Truman presiding. Six days later, Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which abolished racial discrimination in the armed forces. Twenty-two years later, Davis died and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1997, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in his honor.