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Daniel James, First Black to Be a Full General, Dies


Daniel (Chappie) James Jr., a former commander of the North American Air Defense Command who was the first black to rise to the rank of four-star general, died of a heart attack yesterday in Colorado Springs. He was 58 years old.

He retired from the Air Force earlier this month for medical reasons, after suffering a heart attack last fall.

General James, who was decorated for his exploits as a jet fighter pilot in Korea and Vietnam, began his military career in a segregated unit in Alabama, in which, a flying colleague recalled, a black pilot was barred from going to the capital city in uniform "because a white enlisted man would have to salute him."

Arrested for Sit-In

As a young officer, General James was arrested along with several other black pilots for staging a "sit-in" in an all-white officers club at Freeman Field in Seymour, Ind. In his rise through the ranks he continued to struggle for racial equality and saw himself as a symbol for younger members of his race.

Toward the end of his years in service, he declared, "There is less racism in the armed forces of America than there is in any segment of society."

Statement of Brown

Not long after he was promoted to brigadier general, he told an interviewer: "Some people have called me a 'Tom.' But I didn't just walk in here; I fought every step of the way."

"If you're at the top," he said, "you don't have to plead the way you do if you're at the bottom. You can exert a hell of a lot more pressure from the top with that authority than you can from the bottom with that torch, sign or brick. My motto is build a nation, not tear it down." 

In a statement released in Washington yesterday, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown said: "Chappie fought for equal rights as he fought for his country, even when doing so was not popular. We are wiser, more tolerant and stronger because of Chappie."

President Carter had saluted General James on his retirement as "a superb military officer in times of peace or war."

As commander of the North American Air Defense Command, General James had operational command of all United States and Canadian air space defense forces, a Pentagon spokesman said. And President Carter had noted in his farewall meeting with the General that he had shared "an equal authority," including responsibility for "initiating an atomic attack."

For five years, beginning in 1970, General James served in the Pentagon as a spokesman for the Secretary of Defense.

"Too often," he said as he began that job, "the negative gets accentuated because the positive is not pointed out. Often the positive is drab and doesn't make as exciting news as the negative, so we have to seek out and make known the positive while at the same time not hiding the negative under a rock."

General James became the first black man in the armed forces to receive a fourth star—an accomplishment that has not yet been matched—on Sept. 1, 1975. Simultaneously, he left the Pentagon to assume the air defense command.

Currently, the highest-ranking black officer on active duty is Samuel L. Gravely Jr., a Vice Admiral in the Navy. He wears three stars on his shoulder boards.

General James liked to talk proudly of his rise from a family of 17 children in a ghetto of Pensacola, Fla. But he did so with a twinkle in his eye. For while he had indeed lived in a ghetto, the only possibility for blacks in Florida in those days. But his mother ran a prestigious elementary and junior high school and gave her family a comfortable middle-class way of life, enabling young Daniel to earn a degree in physical education at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala., after high school. It was there that he met his wife, Dorothy Watkins.

At Tuskegee he enrolled in a Government program for "colored pilots" and, in his spare time, took up stunt flying under the tutelage of his roommate, Percy Sutton. Mr. Sutton later became Manhattan borough president, and he and the general remained friend. 

Mr. Sutton said that next week, General James was to have become president of a company that Mr. Sutton recently formed to develop theaters, motels and satellite communications in Africa.

In addition to his wife, General James is survived by his daughter, Danice, who is married to Col. Frank W. Berry of the Air Force, and two sons, Daniel 3d, a captain in the Air Force, and Claude.

When he was stricken with the fatal heart attack, General James had gone to Colorado Springs to address a convention of the American Trucking Association. He was taken to the nearby United States Air Force Academy Hospital and pronounced dead at 2 A.M.

[[caption]]Gen. Daniel James last month as he announced his retirement[[/caption]]

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