I am struck by the contrast between us. And by us I mean our grandparents and us. I think what spurred this was two simple pictures shown nearly side-by-side. One of General Benjamin O. Davis, USAF and the other of President Barack H. Obama, both men reached the pinnacle of their profession, but reflect such diametrically opposite lives and approach to life.
General Davis fought for equality in a time when this nation refused to accept even the possibility. Following in his father’s footsteps he sought a military career. Towards that end he was appointed to West Point, NY in 1932 where he spent his four years being shunned by the entire Corp. I cannot begin to imagine the strength of character, the courage of conviction and the fortitude it took to complete those years and graduate. And what did he graduate into? A service that thought the Negro was a second-class soldier, although from the time of the civil war they had proven their abilities. He trained and led a segregated force, after only two years in the field he was assigned to Tuskegee, Alabama as the Professor of Military Science, pushing him into what most would consider a dead end job, but war was on the horizon.
General Davis saw a different future for himself and his race. And he set about to create it. As far as I can tell he didn’t seek favors, rationalize his plight or condemn the society. He set out to prove to the leadership of the Army and the Department of War they were wrong. In the end he proved to even the politicians they were wrong and ultimately to the nation they were wrong.
He did this through strength of character and a demand for excellence; both within himself and from those he led. We have all heard of the Tuskegee Airman, well I wonder what they would have been like if someone other than General Davis had led them?
On July 26, 1948, President Truman signed executive order 9981, desegregating the Department of Defense. Of course this did not instantaneously end discrimination and for those bases in the South the Black airman could not sit at the same lunch counters off base as the Whites. I was not there, but I would assume the Tuskegee Airman faced both overt and subtle racism even on base. But General Davis continued his career of leadership and excellence. Ultimately retiring in 1970 as a Lieutenant General. He was promoted to full General in 1998.
Everything I’ve ever read about General Davis reflects his deep love of country, despite its flaws, and the desire to lead his airman into equality where they are judged not by the color of their skin but by the quality of their work. I would like to think General Davis would recognize we have made great strides, but I wonder if he would be saddened by how far we’ve yet to come?
Then we come to this generation where the civil rights act of 1964 forced society to move begrudgingly towards equality, and where colleges are mandated to set two standards for acceptance. Where, in an effort to force opportunity and overcome the perception of social advantage less is expected of the minorities, and where terms like “white privilege” and “racist” are thrown around whenever someone points out the disparity. Politicians and academic elites who think nothing of condemning the entire nation of today for the sins of our founders.
We, as a whole, now complain, bicker and point fingers. We belittle those who disagree with us and demand that they bend to what we say is right, and if we don’t we bring down the wrath of all we control. We condemn those we disagree with by any means possible and find every petty annoyance as the most tragic of sins.
The contrast is stark and I am saddened we have become who we are. I hope someday we will move to the ideals General Davis inspired.