Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. (Paperback)

American: An Autobiography

By Benjamin O. Davis

Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, 9781560983958, 442pp.

Publication Date: January 17, 2000

List Price: 17.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Set against the backdrop of twentieth-century America, against the social fabric of segregation and the broad canvas of foreign war, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.: American tells a compelling story of personal achievement against formidable odds. Born into an era when potential was measured according to race, Davis was determined to be judged by his character and deeds—to succeed as an American, and not to fail because of color.
With twelve million citizens —the black population of the United States—pulling for him, Davis entered West Point in 1932, resolved to become an officer even though official military directives stated that blacks were decidedly inferior, lacking in courage, superstitious, and dominated by moral and character weaknesses. “Silenced” by his peers, for four years spoken to only in the line of duty, David did not falter. He graduated 35th in a class of 276 and requested assignment to the Army Air Corps, then closed to blacks.
He went on to lead the 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group—units known today as the Tuskegee Airmen—into air combat over North Africa and Italy during World War II. His performance, and that of his men, enabled the Air Force to integrate years before civilian society confronted segregation. Thereafter, in a distinguished career in the Far East, Europe, and the United States, Davis commanded both black and white units.
Davis’s story is interwoven with often painful accounts of the discrimination he and his wife, Agatha, endured as a fact of American military and civilian life. Traveling across the country, unable to find food and lodging, they were often forced to make their way nonstop. Once on base, they were denied use of clubs and, in the early days, were never allowed to attend social activities. Though on-base problems were solved by President Truman’s integration of the military in 1949, conditions in the civilian community continued, eased but not erased by enactment of President Johnson’s legislative program in the 1960s. Overseas, however, where relations were unfettered by racism, the Davises enjoyed numerous friendships within the military and with such foreign dignitaries as President and Madame Chiang Kai-shek.
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., retired in 1970 as a three-star general. His autobiography, capturing the fortitude and spirit with which he and his wife met the pettiness of segregation, bears out Davis’s conviction that discrimination—both within the military and in American society—reflects neither this nation’s ideals nor the best use of its human resources.

About the Author

Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., began his military career in 1936. He was awarded many medals for his service, including the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Croix de Guerre, and three Distinguished Service Medals, Army and Air Force. After retiring from the Air Force in 1970 with three stars, he held several government posts. In 1998 he was awarded an honorary promotion to the rank of four-star general.

Praise For Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.: American: An Autobiography

Davis, the first black graduate of West Point in this century, led the all-black 99th Fighter Squadron in WW II, commanded the integrated 51st Fighter Wing in Korea and the 13th Air Force during the Vietnam war. Retiring from the Air Force in 1970 as a three-star general, he served in a number of civilian posts, including director of public safety for the city of Cleveland and assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Davis enjoyed an almost unbroken string of successes in his military and civilian careers, the only major exception being a municipal job in Cleveland from which he resigned for political reasons. What lends the autobiography historical significance is Davis's account of the struggle to gain professional recognition not only for himself but for all black servicemen in the face of segregation, institutional racial prejudice and local bigotry. A revealing look at race relations from the point of view of a gifted, uncompromising military man. Photos. (From Publishers Weekly; Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.)

YA-- An autobiography of the first African American to graduate from West Point in the 20th century. Although he was not wanted at that institution, Davis graduated 35th in a class of 276. His first assignment was at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was rejected by the Officers' Club. The turning point of his career came when he was asked by the Roosevelt Administration to lead the all-black 99th Fighter Squadron. Davis and his squadron silenced critics with aerial victories over Anzio in two successive days in January, 1944. He later served as director of Civilian Aviation Security and as assistant secretary for Environment, Safety and Consumer Affairs at the Department of Transportation. This book is highly recommended as it presents a new look at race relations from the point of view of an accomplished, steadfast military person. (From School Library Journal; Mike Printz, Topeka West High School, KS; Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Born in 1912 to the only black Regular Army officer in the U.S. Army, Davis graduated from West Point in 1936 and went on to a distinguished career in military aviation. He commanded the very successful black fighter groups whose performance eventually enabled the Air Force to integrate before civilian society had done so. Eventually he rose to lieutenant general, having all his life pioneered in race relations in hostile environments. Davis's intimate narrative omits many details, is often poorly organized, and not always smoothly written, but it breathes rage at the injustices of racism and offers constant inspiration. A very high priority purchase for military, public, and academic libraries because of the stature of the author. (From Library Journal; Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army TRALINET Ctr., Ft. Monroe, Va.; Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.)

By any standards, this is a fine autobiography . . . must reading for anyone interested in race relations or American military history. (Washington Post)

This moving autobiography, written with understated passion and without rancor, describes the appalling ostracism the author endured as a cadet and young officer and the positive changes after World War II that opened opportunity to all officers. . . . (Foreign Affairs)

This book provides valuable insight on many levels. It is military history, aviation history, and a chapter in the history of science and technology. It is also a poignant essay on social changes full of vivid recollections of human courage and tragedy. In the final analysis, this is the story of a military pilot who led his men and his country on one of the greatest 'freedom rides' of all time. (In Flight)

A revealing look at race relations from the point of view of a gifted, uncompromising military man. (Publishers Weekly)

Highly recommended. (School Library Journal)

In his autobiography, [Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.,] breaks the silence he maintained while in uniform. . . . His personal story should come as a revelation to many who may not be fully aware of the long history of prejudice in all the military branches. [The book] illustrates the life of a genuine hero. (New York Times)

Davis, a man of much dignity and reserve, has not written a kiss-and-tell book. He provides personal experience with discretion. . . . A solid autobiography. (Aerospace Power Journal)