Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994 Search this
75.03 Cubic feet (168 boxes)
Tuskegee Army Air Field (Ala.)
This collection consists of 72 linear feet of the papers of Benjamin O. Davis. Included are the following types of material: programs, invitations, certificates, correspondence, published material, and photographs.
Scope and Contents:
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.
Materials of a personal nature, particularly correspondence between General and Mrs. Davis, were retained by the Davises and therefore do not figure in this collection. Most official documents relating to Davis' activities in the military or civil service are held by the United States National Archives and Records Administration in Record Groups 18 (Records of the Army Air Forces), 341 (Records of Headquarters United States Air Force (Air Staff)), 342 (Records of United States Air Force Commands, Activities, and Organizations), and 398 (General Records of the Department of Transportation). Official materials remaining in the collection are primarily contemporary copies given to Mrs. Davis relating to General Davis' travel or public appearances.
Some of the early material (through approximately 1948) was organized by Mrs. Davis into a series of scrapbooks, each of which contains photographs, correspondence, and newsclippings. The rest of the items in the collection were organized into envelopes by the Davises before donation, with the material generally arranged by posting (duty station) and chronology. The items in any given envelope were generally not organized and neither were the envelopes themselves grouped in any particular manner. Additionally, some military records gathered by General Davis as reference material while writing his autobiography were identified by the period of his posting, although the material itself was generally created after that period. Items relating primarily to Mrs. Davis were not separated by the Davises in any manner; during processing such material was treated in a like manner, remaining interfiled with material relating primarily to General Davis, except as noted below.
The collection as a whole has been organized into four chronological groups: Civilian and Family Life (predating Davis' admission to the US Military Academy at West Point, NY), Military Service, Private Life (post-dating Davis' retirement from the USAF), and Autobiography. The second of these (Military Service) has been organized chronologically by posting, then alphabetically by subject; the remaining groups have been organized alphabetically by broad subject areas, then chronologically.
A number of broad subject areas recur in both the civilian and military sections of this collection. In cases where such broad areas can be applied individually to Davis, Mrs. Davis, or Davis Sr., they have been grouped in that order. The subject areas are as follows:
Awards and Honors -- materials relating to medals, citations, or other awards or honors given to Davis (or other members of his family)
Newclippings -- clippings from newspapers or magazines, or complete newspapers or magazines, except when such clippings were enclosures which had remained with their associated cover letter
Official Duties -- materials relating to Davis' activities connected to his official duties (used in Series II only)
Social -- materials relating to the Davises' activities which are not obviously connected to his official duties
Travel -- materials relating to trips by the Davises which do not appear to be duty-related trips
Other subject areas are generally self-explanatory.
The collection contained two videotapes, one relating to the 50th Anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen and the other to the 1992 Clinton Campaign, both of which have been transferred to the NASM Film Archives. Cross references to these tapes have been placed in the finding aid in the series or subseries into which they would have fallen had they been documents. A large number of three-dimensional items, particularly plaques, have been transferred to curatorial control. For access to these items, please contact the NASM Aeronautics Department. Oversized items remaining in the collection have been placed in appropriate-sized containers at the end of the document collection; reference to such items occurs in the file lists as "see oversized..." or "see also oversized..." as appropriate.
Researchers should also consult Davis' autobiography, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., American: An Autobiography (Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 1991).
Series 1: Education and Civilian Life, to June 1932
Series 2: Military Career, June 1932 to January 1970
Series 3: Civilian Life, February 1970 to 1993
Series 4: Autobiography
Biographical / Historical:
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.(1) 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.(2) 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(3) 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.(4) He held both command and staff positions abroad in Korea (5), Japan (6), Taiwan (7), Germany (8), and the Philippines.(9) 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 (10), 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
es, 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.
1. For the sake of brevity, "Davis" refers to Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. "Davis Sr." refers to his father, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr.
2. 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).
3. 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.
4. 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).
5. Commander, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing (November 1953-July 1954); Chief of Staff, United Nations Command/US Forces Korea (May 1965-August 1967)
6. Director of Operations and Training, Headquarters, Far East Air Force, Tokyo (July 1954-April 1957)
7. Commanding Officer, Air Task Force 13 (Provisional) and Vice Commander, Thirteenth Air Force (June 1955-April 1957)
8. Chief of Staff, Twelfth Air Force (May-December 1957); Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, USAF Europe (December 1957-July 1961)
9. Commander, Thirteenth Air Force (August 1967-July 1968)
10. 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.
1912 December 18 -- Davis born in Washington, DC to First Lieutenant Benjamin O. Davis (Sr.) and Elnora Dickerson Davis
1914 September 1 -- World War I begins
1915 February -- Davis Sr. begins duties as instructor at Wilberforce University, OH
1916 February 9 -- Elnora Dickerson Davis dies
1917 April 6 -- United States declares war on Germany; direct U.S. involvement in World War I begins
1917 (Summer) -- Davis Sr. assigned to 9th Cavalry Regiment, Camp Stotsenburg, Philippine Islands
1918 November 11 -- World War I armistice signed; end of combat operations in Europe
1919 -- Davis Sr. marries Sadie Overton
1920 July -- Family moves to Tuskegee, AL (Davis Sr. instructs at Tuskegee Institute)
1924 July -- Family moves to Cleveland, OH (Davis Sr. instructs 372d Infantry Regiment, OH National Guard)
1929 -- Davis graduates from Central High School, Cleveland, OH
1929 --1930 -- Davis attends Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
1930 --1932 -- Davis attends University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
1931 March -- Davis appointed to United States Military Academy, West Point, NY (fails entrance exam)
1932 March -- Davis passes USMA entrance exam
1932 July 1 -- Davis reports to USMA, West Point, NY (attends July 1, 1932-June 12, 1936)
1936 June 12 -- Davis graduates from USMA, commissioned Second Lieutenant of Infantry
1936 June 20 -- Davis marries Agatha Josephine Scott
1936 September 12 -- Davis reports to Company F, 24th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, GA (Company Officer, September 12, 1936-August 27, 1937)
1937 July 7 -- Japanese forces invades China; World War II begins in Asia
1937 August 27 -- Davis reports to the Infantry School at Fort Benning, GA (attends normal course, August 27, 1937-June 18, 1938)
1938 June 18 -- Davis reports to Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, AL as Professor of Military Science (instructs June 18, 1938-February 14, 1941)
1939 June 12 -- Davis promoted to First Lieutenant
1939 September 1 -- German forces invade Poland; World War II begins in Europe
1940 October 9 -- Davis promoted to Captain (temporary promotion)
1940 October 25 -- Davis Sr. promoted to Brigadier General and placed in command of the 4th Cavalry Brigade at Fort Riley, KS
1941 February -- Davis assigned as Aide de Camp to Davis Sr. (serves February-May 1941)
1941 May 20 -- Davis reports to Flying School at Tuskegee Army Air Field, AL (student, May 20, 1941-March 7, 1942)
1941 December 7 -- Japanese aircraft attack Pearl Harbor, HI; direct U.S. involvement in World War II begins
1942 March 7 -- Davis is appointed Administrative Officer, Tuskegee AAF, AL (serves March 7-August 27, 1942)
1942 May -- Davis transferred from Infantry to Army Air Corps
1942 May 11 -- Davis promoted to Major (temporary promotion)
1942 May 21 -- Davis promoted to Lieutenant Colonel (temporary promotion)
1942 August 27 -- Davis assumes command of 99th Fighter Squadron, Tuskegee AAF, AL (Squadron Commander, August 27, 1942-October 4, 1943)
1943 April 24 -- 99th Fighter Squadron transferred to Casablanca, French Morocco
1943 April 29 -- 99th Fighter Squadron transferred to Oued N'ja, French Morocco
1943 June 7 -- 99th Fighter Squadron transferred to Fardjouna, Tunisia
1943 July 28 -- 99th Fighter Squadron transferred to Licata, Sicily
1943 September 4 -- 99th Fighter Squadron transferred to Termini, Sicily
1943 September 17 -- 99th Fighter Squadron transferred to Barcellona, Sicily
1943 September -- Davis returns to Continental United States
1943 October 8 -- Davis assumes command of 332d Fighter Group, Selfridge Field, MI (Group Commander, October 8, 1943-June 7, 1945)
1944 February 3 -- 332d Fighter Group transferred to Montecorvino, Italy
1944 April 15 -- 332d Fighter Group transferred to Capodichino, Italy
1944 May 28 -- 332d Fighter Group transferred to Ramitelli Airfield, Italy
1944 May 29 -- Davis promoted to Colonel (temporary promotion)
1945 May 4 -- 332d Fighter Group transferred to Cattolica, Italy
1945 May 7 -- Germany surrenders; World War II ends in Europe
1945 June 10 -- Davis returns to Continental United States
1945 June 21 -- Davis assumes command of 477th Composite Group (Group Commander, June 21-30, 1945)
1945 July 1 -- Davis assumes command of Godman Field, KY, and all tenant units, including 477th Composite Group (Base Commander, July 1, 1945-March 4, 1946)
1945 September 2 -- Japan surrenders; World War II ends in the Pacific
1946 March 4 -- Davis assumes command of Lockbourne AAB and all tenant units, including 477th Composite Group (Base Commander, March 4, 1946-September 15, 1947) All units at Godman Field transferred to Lockbourne Army Air Base, OH
1947 July 1 -- 477th Composite Group redesignated 332d Fighter Wing
1947 July-August -- Davis travels to Liberia with Davis Sr. as a special representative of the United States Government for the establishment of Liberian independence
1947 September 16 -- Davis assumes direct command of 332d Fighter Wing (Wing Commander, September 16, 1947-June 30, 1949)
1947 October 1 -- United States Air Force created as an independent service.
1948 July 2 -- Davis' promotion to Lieutenant Colonel made permanent.
1948 July 26 -- President Truman signs Executive Order 9981 ordering the full integration of the United States armed forces.
1949 May 11 -- USAF issues Air Force Letter 35-3 stating that Air Force policy is equal treatment and opportunity for all persons in the Air Force regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin.
1949 June 30 -- 332d Fighter Wing deactivated
1949 July 1 -- Davis assumes command of Lockbourne AFB, OH (Base Commander, July 1-August 16, 1949)
1949 August 16 -- Lockbourne AFB, OH transferred to Ohio Air National Guard
1949 August 17 -- Davis reports to Air War College, Maxwell AFB, AL (attends course, August 17, 1949-July 4, 1950)
1950 June 25 -- North Korean forces invade South Korea; Korean War begins
1950 July 19 -- Davis reports to Pentagon to serve as Staff Planning Officer, Operations and Planning Division, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (DCS/O), Headquarters, United States Air Force, Washington, DC (serves July 19, 1950-January 4, 1951)
1950 July 27 -- Davis' promotion to Colonel made permanent
1950 August 8 -- Davis awarded Croix de Guerre by the French government for his actions during World War II
1950 September 12 -- Operations and Planning Division redesignated Commands Division of DCS/O
1951 January 5 -- Davis begins duty as Branch Chief, Air Defense Branch, Commands Division, DCS/O. (serves January 5, 1951-July 15, 1953)
1951 April 16 -- Air Defense Branch redesignated Fighter Branch, Control Division, DCS/O
1953 February 5 -- Davis reports to Craig AFB, AL for Jet Indoctrination Course (February 5-March 2, 1953); returns to Fighter Branch on completion of course
1953 July 16 -- Davis reports to Nellis AFB, NV for Advanced Jet Fighter Gunnery School (July 16-November 16, 1953)
1953 July 27 -- Korean War armistice signed; end of combat operations in Korea
1953 November 25 -- Davis assumes command of 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing at Suwon, Korea (Wing Commander, November 25, 1953-July 6, 1954)
1954 July 7 -- Davis reports to Headquarters, Far East Air Force, Tokyo, Japan to serve a Director of Operations and Training (serves July 7, 1954-April 1957)
1954 October 27 -- Davis is promoted to Brigadier General (temporary promotion)
1955 June -- Davis reports to Taipei, Taiwan to establish Air Task Force 13 (Provisional) (Commander, June 1955-April 1957), with simultaneous duties as Vice Commander, Thirteenth Air Force and Director of Operations and Training, FEAF
1957 March -- Davis awarded Command Pilot Rating
1957 May -- Davis assigned to Twelfth Air Force
1957 June -- Davises travel from Taiwan to Europe via United States
1957 July -- Davis reports to Headquarters, Twelfth Air Force at Ramstein, Germany (Chief of Staff, May-December 1957)
1957 December -- Davis begins duties as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (ADVON) at Headquarters, USAF Europe, Wiesbaden, Germany (serves December 1957-July 1961)
1959 June 30 -- Davis is promoted to Major General (temporary rank)
1960 May 16 -- Davis' promotion to Brigadier General made permanent
1961 -- US military personnel sent to South Vietnam as advisors
1961 August -- Davis reports to Pentagon to serve as Director of Manpower and Organizations, Deputy Chief of Staff for Programs and Requirements, Headquarters, USAF (serves August 1961-February 1965)
1962 January 30 -- Davis' promotion to Major General is made permanent
1965 February -- Davis begins duty as Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Programs and Requirements, Headquarters, USAF (serves February-May 1965)
1965 April 30 -- Davis promoted to Lieutenant General
1965 March 2 -- USAF begins "Rolling Thunder" bombing campaign over North Vietnam
1965 May 13 -- Davis reports to Seoul, Korea to begin duties as Chief of Staff to the United Nations Command and United States Forces Korea (serves May 13, 1965-August 1, 1967)
1966 October 25 -- Sadie Overton Davis dies
1967 August -- Davis assumes command of Thirteenth Air Force, Clark Air Base, Philippines (Commanding Officer, August 1967-July 1968)
1968 August 1 -- Davis reports to MacDill AFB, FL to begin duties as Deputy Commander in Chief of United States Strike Command (serves August 1, 1968-January 31, 1970)
1968 January -- Tet Offensive begins in Vietnam
1968 October 31 -- "Rolling Thunder" ends on orders from President Johnson
1969 January 20 -- Richard M. Nixon inaugurated President of the United States
1970 -- USAF begins withdrawing units from South Vietnam
1970 January 31 -- Davis retires from United States Air Force
1970 February 1 -- Davis begins work as Director of Public Safety for the Cleveland, OH (works February 1, 1970-July 27, 1970)
1970 June 13 -- Davis joins President's Commission on Campus Unrest (report issued September 27, 1971)
1970 July 27 -- Davis resigns from Cleveland position, citing lack of support from Mayor Stokes
1970 September 20 -- Davis begins work as a consultant to the United States Secretary of Transportation on air transportation security (works September 20, 1970-November 4, 1970)
1970 November 4 -- Davis begins work a Director of Civil Aviation Security for the United States Department of Transportation (works November 4, 1970-July 1, 1971)
1970 November 26 -- Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. dies
1971 July 1 -- Davis becomes Acting Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Safety and Consumer Affairs (serves July 1, 1971-August 3, 1971)
1971 July 8 -- Nixon Administration nominates Davis to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Safety and Consumer Affairs
1971 July 29 -- Senate confirms Davis in Assistant Secretary position
1971 August 3 -- Davis sworn in a Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Safety and Consumer Affairs (serves August 3, 1970-September 20, 1975)
1973 March 28 -- Last US Military personnel leave South Vietnam
1974 August 9 -- Nixon resigns as President of the United States. Vice President Gerald R. Ford becomes President
1975 September 20 -- Davis retires from Civil Service
1976 April -- Davis begins work as Special Assistant to the Secretary of Transportation for the National Maximum Speed Limit
1977 January 20 -- James E. Carter inaugurated President of the United States
1977 June -- Davis joins President's Commission on Military Compensation (report issued March 1978)
1981 January 20 -- Ronald W. Reagan inaugurated President of the United States Davis leaves position as Special Assistant to the Secretary of Transportation
1989 January 20 -- George H. W. Bush inaugurated President of the United States
1991 -- Davis' autobiography – Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., American: An Autobiography – is published by Smithsonian Press
1991 June 30 -- Davis awarded a Lifetime Membership by Tuskegee Airmen Inc
1993 January 20 -- William J. Clinton inaugurated President of the United States
1998 December 9 -- Davis promoted to General (Retired) in a ceremony at the Old Executive Office Building
2001 January 20 -- George W. Bush inaugurated President of the United States
2002 July 4 -- Davis dies at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC
2002 July 17 -- Davis buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA
Benjamin O. Davis and Agatha S. Davis, Gift, various, 1992-0023
No restrictions on access
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. Collection, Acc. 1992.0023, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. Collection, Acc. 1992.0023, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
The Smithsonian Institution Archives began its Oral History Program in 1973. The purpose of the program is to supplement the written documentation of the Archives'
record and manuscript collections with an Oral History Collection, focusing on the history of the Institution, research by its scholars, and contributions of its staff. Program
staff conduct interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution. There are also interviews conducted
by researchers or students on topics related to the history of the Smithsonian or the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Louis R. Purnell was interviewed for the Oral History Collection because of his long career at the Institution, including fifteen years as Curator of Astronautics at the
National Air and Space Museum, and his pioneering work as an African American professional.
Purnell was interviewed in seven sessions between December 1993 and February 1994 by Terrica M. Gibson, an Intern with the Institutional History Division, Smithsonian
Institution Archives. The interviews cover his childhood in Wilmington, Delaware, and Cape May, New Jersey; his education, love of flying, service during World War II; reminiscences
of prominent Army Air Corps personnel, including General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.; careers with the Office of the Quartermaster General, U.S. Book Exchange, NMNH and NASM; the
circumstances surrounding the first lunar landing; the move of NASM from the Arts & Industries (A&I) Building; relationship with the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA); and reminiscences of colleagues including G. Arthur Cooper, S. Paul Johnston, and Michael Collins.
This collection is comprised of approximately 12 hours of recordings and 291 pages of transcript.
Louis R. Purnell (1920-2001), was born on April 5, 1920 in Snow Hill, Maryland. He spent his youth in Wilmington, Delaware and Cape May, New Jersey. While beginning
his undergraduate degree at Lincoln University, in Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, he was able to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot when the Civilian Pilot Training Program
(CPTP) was instituted on campus. In 1942, he enlisted and was accepted into the seventh class of African American Army Air Force aviation cadets stationed at the Tuskegee
Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama (the Tuskegee Airmen). He joined the all-Black 99th Fighter Squadron in 1943. During World War II, he completed two tours of duty in North
Africa and southern Italy with the 99th, and later the 332nd Fighter Group. He was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with Eight Oak Leaf Clusters.
After his return to the United States, Purnell returned to Lincoln University and completed a B.A. in Psychology. He took a position as a Speech Therapist at the Lena J.
Sklar School in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He eventually moved to Washington, D.C., and held positions at the Office of the Quartermaster General and the United States Book
Exchange at the Library of Congress. Purnell worked in a variety of jobs at the Smithsonian, eventually joining the Division of Invertebrate Paleontology and Paleobotany in
the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in 1961. In 1968, he moved to the Department of Astronautics of the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). During his career in
the Astronautics Department (renamed the Department of Space Science and Exploration in 1980), he progressed through the ranks from Museum Specialist to Curator, a position
he held until his retirement in January 1985.
Restricted. Contact SIHistory@si.edu to request permission.
The Tuskegee Airmen chronology : a detailed timeline of the Red Tails and other black pilots of World War II / Daniel L. Haulman ; with a foreword by Charles E. McGee, Colonel (Ret.), 302nd Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group