Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr., Air Force general, Died at 89


Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr. died on July 4, 2002 at the age of 89, he was an American United States Air Force general and commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen.

Born in Washington, D.C. on December 18, 1912, the second of three children born to Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and Elnora Dickerson Davis, his father was a U.S. Army officer, and at the time was stationed in Wyoming serving as a lieutenant with an all-white cavalry unit.

Benjamin O. Davis Sr. served 41 years before he was promoted to brigadier general in October 1940. Elnora Davis died from complications after giving birth to their third child (Elnora) in 1916.

At the age of 13, in the summer of 1926, the younger Davis went for a flight with a barnstorming pilot at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C.

He graduated in 1936, 35th in a class of 278. He was the academy’s fourth black graduate (and the first graduate since Charles Young in 1889).

When he was commissioned as a second lieutenant, the Army had a grand total of two black line officers – Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and Benjamin O. Davis Jr. After graduation he married Agatha Scott.

Early in 1941, the Roosevelt administration, in response to public pressure for greater black participation in the military as war approached, ordered the War Department to create a black flying unit.

Captain Davis was assigned to the first training class at Tuskegee Army Air Field (hence the name Tuskegee Airmen), and in March 1942 earned his wings as one of five black officers to complete the course.

He was the first black officer to solo an Army Air Corps aircraft. In July that year, having been promoted to lieutenant colonel, he was named commander of the first all-black air unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron.

In July 1948, President Truman signed an executive order providing for integration of the armed forces.

Colonel Davis helped draft an Air Force blueprint on integration that went into effect the next year, the wartime performance of his fliers having already created a climate for ending segregation.

In his autobiography, ”Benjamin O. Davis Jr.: American” (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991), General Davis told of the pressures that he and the fliers who came to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen, for the base where they trained, had encountered in the face of racism.

”We would go through any ordeal that came our way, be it in garrison existence or combat, to prove our worth,” he said. ”Our airmen considered themselves pioneers in every sense of the word.”