Honored! An American hero!, General Benjamin O. Davis

Two schools named after famed Tuskegee Airman General Benjamin O. Davis

HOUSTON- The year Air Force General Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr., died (July 4, 2002), Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, a professor in the Department of African-American Studies at Temple University, placed him on his list of 100 Greatest African-Americans. It was a recognition not to be taken lightly. Dr. Asante, the founder of the first PhD program in African-American Studies, the founding editor of the Journal of Black Studies, and the author of more than 65 books, is considered by his peers as one of the nation’s most distinguished contemporary scholars.

Eight years later, General Davis is still considered worthy of honor. During last month’s Board meeting, Aldine Independent School District Trustees unanimously approved naming two new schools after him. Davis Jr., who served as leader of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, was initially recommended by Dr. Viola M. Garcia, chairperson of the School Names Committee to committee members Merlin Griggs and Rick Ogden. The three then made the recommendation to the Board which unanimously agreed.

Garcia said, “Aldine has a tradition of naming our high schools after generals; Eisenhower, Nimitz and MacArthur. We wanted our new school to reflect our changing population and although a number of names were considered, Davis’ service stood out as a wonderful example for our students to follow. It wasn’t a very hard decision.”

According to Davis, last year’s statistics show that Aldine is 67 percent Hispanic, 28 percent African-American, 3 percent White, 1 percent Asian or Pacific American and less than 1 percent Native American.

Davis High School will open in August 2012 at 12525 Ella Blvd. Its first two classes will consist of ninth and 10th graders.

The first year enrollment is expected to be between 1,300 and 1,600 students. The 400,000 square feet school, the largest high school in AISD, is designed to hold 2,200 students and its focus will be on aviation in partnership with the City of Houston’s aviation department and the Texas Southern University aviation department. Varsity athletics will begin in 2015, however, the school will play at the freshman/junior varsity level from 2012-2014.

The second school is Davis Ninth Grade school, 12211 Ella Blvd. It will open in August, 2013 and will have a competition size swimming pool, which will meet UIL competition requirements.

General Davis was chosen because of his legacy of service to the United States military, which was noted by numerous awards and commendations. Davis was the recipient of the Air Force’s Distinguished Service Medal, the Army’s Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters and the Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters.
Perhaps he is most noted for his ground-breaking work with the famed Tuskegee Airmen. Born in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 18, 1912, Davis, Jr., his father, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., was a combat officer (one of two Black ones) in the US Army. The senior Davis’ military career was hampered by segregation although he retired at the rank of brigadier general. The younger Davis grew up despising segregation, especially in the military and set a goal to destroy it as much as humanly possible. He became a West Point Academy graduate and one of 13 Black men in the first training class for Black pilots in Tuskegee, Ala.

According to www.acepilots.com, “Prior to World War Two, the U.S. Army Air Corps did not employ Negroes (the respectful term in that era) in any role, a policy which found its justification in a racist and inaccurate report written in the 1920’s. However, in 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Air Corps to build an all-Negro flying unit. The presidential order caused the Army to create the 99th Pursuit Squadron. To develop the Negro pilots needed for the new squadron, the Air Corps opened a new training base in central Alabama, at the Tuskegee Institute.”

The site goes on to say that on March 29, 1941, “Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee and met Charles ‘Chief’ Anderson, the head of the program. Mrs. Roosevelt asked, ‘Can Negroes really fly airplanes?’ He replied: ‘Certainly we can; as a matter of fact, would you like to take an airplane ride?’ Over the objections of her Secret Service agents, Mrs. Roosevelt accepted. ... Chief Anderson took off and flew her around for half an hour. Upon landing, Mrs. Roosevelt turned to the Chief and said, ‘I guess Negroes can fly,’ and they posed together for a historic photo. Not long after Mrs. Roosevelt’s return to Washington, it was announced that the first Negro Air Corps pilots would be trained at Tuskegee Institute.”

In that class, only five completed the training. The other four in that freshman class were commissioned second lieutenants, and all five were handed their Army Air Corps silver pilot wings.

Davis, Jr. retired from the Air Force in 1970 at the rank of Lt. General, but in December of 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded him a fourth star raising him to the rank of full general. Davis was the first African- American full general in the United States Air Force.

For about the past 10 years, members of the Tuskegee Airmen have visited the Aldine District for several days each school year.

The Tuskegee Airmen were dedicated, determined young men who
enlisted to become America’s first Black military airmen, at a time
when there were many people who thought that Black men lacked
intelligence, skill, courage and patriotism.

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