About the Project
This collection consists of material gathered by General and Mrs. Davis over the course of their lives to 1993. The bulk of this collection consists of correspondence, newsclippings, and photographs relating to or received by the Davises, especially after General Davis retired from the Air Force. The collection is particularly rich in materials from the black press of the 1940s, documenting the response of the black community to the activities of the 99th Fighter Squadron and 332d Fighter Group during and after World War II, and contains a small amount of material related to the controversy surrounding the units' combat performance and the morale issues raised by the segregated society of the 1940s. Most of the remainder of the material from Davis' military career centers on his own activities. Davis' tenure as the Director of Public Safety in Cleveland coincides with the activities of the Black Panther movement and the term of Mayor Carl Stokes, Cleveland's first mayor of African descent; the newclippings and correspondence from this period highlight police activities and public reaction in this racially-polarized atmosphere. Much of the material from Davis' early tenure at the Department of Transportation deals with civil aviation security, initially to counter the hijacking wave of the early 1970s and later to reduce cargo theft. The material from his later years, particularly during his years as a consultant, deals primarily with attempts to reduce gasoline consumption, especially his work promoting the 55mph National Maximum Speed Limit. The largest blocks of material from Davis' private life relate to his tenure on the President's Commission on Campus Unrest (1970) and the President's Commission on Military Compensation (1977-1978); these contain, respectively, materials on student protests, including the shootings at Kent State, and on issues surrounding military pay and retirement. There is also a significant body of material relating to his association with Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. and his speaking tours to increase public knowledge of the role of black servicemen during World War II.
Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr. was born in Washington, DC on December 18, 1912. He attended Western Reserve University and the University of Chicago before gaining admission to the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. He graduated in the Class of 1936 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry.
After serving in the infantry for several years Davis was posted to the newly-established Tuskegee Army Air Field, AL for pilot training in 1942. He commanded the 99th Fighter Squadron, the first unit of “Tuskegee Airmen.” Two units of Tuskegee Airmen saw combat during World War II: the 99th Fighter Squadron and the 332d Fighter Group. Davis, promoted to Colonel in 1944, commanded both of these units in turn, leading the 99th and 332d in combat in Europe and earning the Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, and Silver Star for his own actions and a Distinguished Unit Citation for the 332d Fighter Group. Davis was responsible for the success of the 477th, as he quickly brought the unit up to deployment requirements, in spite of racial tensions that had previously left the unit lacking training. The performance of the units under Davis' command had laid to rest questions regarding the abilities of the "negro race" and in 1948 the Air Force determined that the efficient use of its manpower required the integration of its units. As a result the Air Force rapidly complied with President Truman's order for the integration of the United States military.
The integration procedure, however, resulted in the deactivation of Davis' command as its personnel were dispersed among the rest of the Air Force; Davis himself was assigned to attend classes at the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, AL. After completing the course of study at the Air War College, Davis was posted to a variety of command and staff positions both within the United States and abroad.
Davis was promoted to Brigadier General in October 1954, after ten years as a Colonel. He was promoted to Major General in June 1959 and to Lieutenant General in April 1965. Despite persistent rumors of his impending promotion to full General, no such promotion was pending by the time of his retirement on January 31, 1970. On December 9, 1998, Davis was promoted to General on the Retired List, receiving his fourth star from President William Clinton in a ceremony held in the Presidential Hall of the Old Executive Office Building in Washington, DC. The promotion came only after the Tuskegee Airmen approached Senator John McCain of Arizona, who agreed that the promotion was warranted by Davis' service.