Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr. was born in Washington, DC on December 18, 1912, the second of three children born to Benjamin Oliver (Sr.) and Elnora Dickerson Davis. At that time Davis Sr.  was a First Lieutenant in the United States Army, having worked his way up from an enlisted cavalry trooper. Elnora Davis died from complications after giving birth to their third child (Elnora) in 1916 and three years later Davis Sr. married Sadie Overton, an English professor at Wilberforce University. Davis and his sisters lived with relatives in Washington while Davis Sr. completed his tour of duty in the Philippines with his new bride. The family was reunited in Tuskegee, AL when Davis Sr. taught military science and tactics at the Tuskegee Institute between 1920 and 1924. In 1924 Davis Sr. was assigned as an instructor to a federalized Ohio National Guard unit and the family moved to Cleveland, OH.
Davis finished his schooling in Cleveland, graduating from Central High School in 1929. He then attended Western Reserve University (1929-1930) and the University of Chicago (1930-1932) 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. Upon graduation, he married Ms. Agatha Scott, whom he had met and dated while at the Academy.
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 graduated in the first class from the new flying school and was officially transferred to the Army Air Corps. In August 1942 he assumed command of the 99th Fighter Squadron, leading it in combat in North Africa and Sicily. The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first unit of "Tuskegee Airmen," as black  units in the segregated Army Air Forces (AAF) have come to be called. Two units of Tuskegee Airmen saw combat during World War II: the 99th Fighter Squadron and the 332d Fighter Group (composed of the 100th, 301st, and 302d Fighter Squadrons). 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 returned to the United States in June 1945 to assume command of the 477th Bombardment Group (composed of the 616th, 617th, 618th, and 619th Bombardment Squadrons; later redesignated the 477th Composite Group), another segregated black unit, at Godman Field, KY. Davis was expected to prepare the unit for deployment to the Pacific Theater, although the unit's training was badly behind schedule due to racial tensions between the white staff and black operating personnel of the unit. Davis quickly brought the unit up to deployment requirements, but the war ended before the 477th left the United States. Returning elements of the 332d and 99th were merged into the 477th, which was redesignated the 332d Fighter Wing in 1947. As the only remaining black unit in the newly-established, but still segregated, United States Air Force (USAF), the 332d suffered from a surplus of qualified personnel while remaining USAF units were often under manned. 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. Davis acted as an advisor to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force in relation to the integration of the armed forces. 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 (1949-1950), Davis was posted to a variety of command and staff positions both within the United States and abroad. He served in a number of staff positions in Headquarters, USAF, at the Pentagon. He held both command and staff positions abroad in Korea , Japan , Taiwan , Germany , and the Philippines. His final assignment was as Deputy Commander in Chief of United States Strike Command at MacDill AFB, FL.
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 (four stars), no such promotion was pending by the time of his retirement on January 31, 1970.
Throughout his military career Davis took great pains to insure good living conditions and fair treatment for the men under his command. He strove to create good relations between the US military forces and local military and civil authorities. In particular, he negotiated several Status of Forces Agreements and defused several antagonistic situations between US forces and local authorities while commanding units in Asia. In addition, he and Agatha established many personal relationships, which they maintained after their return to the United States.
After his retirement from the military, he served briefly as the Director of Public Safety for the City of Cleveland, OH (February-July 1970), leading the Cleveland Police and Fire Departments in the racially-polarized atmosphere in that city after the riots of the late 1960s. Following his resignation from Cleveland, he took a position as the Director of Civil Aviation Security for the United States Department of Transportation (November 1970-June 1971), where he was responsible for implementing measures to counter the first wave of aerial hijackings of the 1970s. In July 1971 he was appointed Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Safety and Consumer Affairs (July 1971-September 1975), serving both the Nixon and Ford Administrations in that position.
Following his retirement from the civil service, he worked as a consultant to the Department of Transportation in the Ford and Carter Administrations on a number of issues, but was particularly linked to the promotion of the 55mph National Maximum Speed Limit. He served on a number of boards and commissions, including the President's Commission on Campus Unrest, the American Battle Monuments Commission, The President's Commission on Military Compensation, and the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Life Insurance Co. He was also active in a number of clubs and organizations, particularly the Tuskegee Airmen Inc., which awarded him a lifetime membership in 1991.
In the late 1980s he began work on his autobiography, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., American: An Autobiography (Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 1991). Following its publication, Davis pursued an active speaking career, crossing the country to talk to schools, clubs, and general audiences about his experiences. His book and speeches, his contributions to the Black Wings exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum (opened 1983), and the work of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. did much to lift the veil that had fallen over the activities of black Americans during World War II, both in the air and on the ground. For his contributions, both during and after World War II, he received many awards, including the Order of the Sword (presented by the Non-Commissioned Officers of USAF Tactical Air Command, awarded 1978), designation as an Elder Statesman of Aviation (National Aeronautic Association, awarded 1991), and the Langley Medal (Smithsonian Institution, awarded 1992), as well as numerous lifetime and distinguished achievement awards.
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 Airzona, who agreed that the promotion was warranted by Davis' service. McCain added the necessary language to a defense-related bill, which was passed by Congress in September 1998.
Agatha died early in 2002 and General Davis, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, followed shortly after, passing away on July 4, 2002 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.
 Davis had requested a commission in the Army Air Corps, but was refused due to his race. Davis was the fourth black American to graduate from West Point and the first in the twentieth century. In keeping with his sentiments, his ethnicity will only be mentioned when it has a direct bearing upon his career. See Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., American: An Autobiography (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991). [back]
 At the request of General and Mrs. Davis the term "black" or "black American" is used in preference to "African-American". Patricia Williams, Memorandum for the Record, August 21, 1992, NASM Accession File 1992-0023. [back]
 Staff Planning Officer, Operations and Planning Division/Commands Division, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (DCS/O; July 1950-January 1951); Chief, Air Defense Branch/Fighter Branch, DCS/O (January 1951-July 1953); Director of Manpower and Organizations, DCS/Programs and Requirements (August 1961-February 1965); Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Programs and Requirements (February-May 1965). [back]
 Davis was the first black American to achieve flag rank in the United States Air Force. He was the second in the armed forces, the first being his father, who was promoted to Brigadier General in the United States Army in 1940. [back]