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West Point and Cadet Benjamin O. Davis

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has named a barracks after General Benjamin O. Davis, ’32, the second African American to graduate. He went on to a distinguished military and civilian career. While at West Point he was “silenced” by the other cadets because of his race. His predecessor, Henry Ossian Flipper, endured the same, probably worse from 1873 to 1877.

Who were the cadets who imposed this regime on Davis? I looked up graduates of the Class of 1929, the seniors who ran things when Davis entered the academy. At least two of them went on to some fame in World War II. Frank Merrill headed Merrill’s Marauders, the only U.S. Infantry unit in the China-Burma-India Theater and James Gavin, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and ambassador to France. Other members of ’29 became generals. A less notable member of the class was the father of comedians Tom and Dick Smothers. He died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in 1945.

To be sure America at the time and especially the U.S. Army was segregated and racist, but I wonder if Gavin’s and Merrill’s biographers mention this episode. 

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