Davis, Benjamin O., 1880-1970

Alternative names
Birth 1880
Death 1970-11-26

Biographical notes:

Benjamin Oliver Davis (1877-1970) was born in Washington, DC, to Louis and Henrietta (Stewart) Davis. He was the first African American general officer in the U.S. Armed Forces. Davis's military career began when he left his studies at Howard University in 1897 to serve in the Spanish-American War as a first lieutenant. After the war, he enlisted as a private in the 9th Cavalry in 1901. In 1905 he joined the faculty at Wilberforce University in Ohio as professor of military science and tactics. In 1909 he became a military attaché to Monrovia, Liberia, and held the position until January 1912. During World War I, he did a tour of duty in the Philippines. Between 1920 and 1940, he taught at Tuskegee Institute, Wilberforce University, and the New York National Guard. In 1930 he did a brief detail with the Department of State on affairs related to the Republic of Liberia. The Army promoted him to the rank of brigadier general in October 1940, making him the first African American general officer in the history of the U.S. Army. He was brigade commander with the 2nd Cavalry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, at the time of his retirement on July 31, 1941. The Army recalled him to active duty the next day. During World War II, he served as Assistant to the Inspector General and then as advisor on race relations in the European Theater of Operations. In November 1944 he became Special Assistant to the Commanding General of the communications zone of the European Theater of Operations. In January 1946, he returned to serve with the Inspector General. He retired again from active duty on July 14, 1948, after fifty years of service. His decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal and Bronze Star. He married Elnora Dickerson in 1902 and became a widower in 1916. He married Sadie Overton in 1919. He had three children, Olive, Benjamin Oliver, Jr., and Elnora. His son was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and the second African American general officer in the U.S. Armed Forces.


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  • World War, 1914-1918--African Americans
  • International relief
  • African American soldiers--History--20th century
  • African American soldiers--Photographs
  • World War, 1939-1945--African Americans--Photographs
  • Spanish--American War, 1898--African Americans
  • World War, 1939-1945--African Americans
  • African American soldiers--Training of
  • African American generals--Biography


  • Generals


  • Chicago, IL, US
  • Washington, D. C., DC, US