“I was silenced solely because cadets did not want blacks at West Point. Their only purpose was to freeze me out.”
– From autobiography
Historically at West Point, the “silent treatment” was reserved for cadets who had violated the honor code, but somehow escaped expulsion. In 1932, when Benjamin Davis entered the military academy, it was the one thing other cadets could do to force him out.
However, the leadership at West Point was not without guilt. Upon arrival, Davis learned that he would room by himself. He noted a conversation with the Commandant of Cadets where he was told West Point could not force a white cadet to room with him. Initially, several cadets spoke with him and shared information, but then the word must have gotten out and he was isolated.
Davis wrote about undergoing hazing during his Plebe year. This was not unusual at that time, and it was a rite of passage for all cadets. Even Hal Moore remembered being braced until he sweated out the outline of his uniform on a wall. Of all the hazing, Moore hated being required to “warm up the toilet seats” in the morning. A plebe would have to sit on the seat to absorb the overnight cold. Horrible practices that have been eliminated since.
But, add the silent treatment to a plebe year designed to weed out the weak, and Davis had an almost insurmountable challenge. As he stated in his autobiography, “This cruel treatment was designed to make me buckle, but I refused to buckle in any way. I maintained my self respect.”
The silent treatment went one step further. He continued to room by himself and other cadets routinely refused to sit at the same table in the mess hall with him. His will steeled by these prejudices strengthened over time. At no time during his training at USMA did Dave consider leaving. He was focused on achieving. Even with graduation, the horrible treatment continued. Davis want to fly as part of the Army Air Corps and was fully physically and mentally qualified to do so. The Army disapproved his application because there were no black units in the Air Corps. With that, his future was put on hold until Franklin D. Roosevelt demanded the Air Corps include black units.
Clearly, Davis’ time at USMA proves, without a doubt, that he was a man with strength of career and an iron will to succeed. Davis graduated, left USMA behind him, and reported for duty with the 24th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning.
Davis was the first black cadet to graduate from USMA in the 20th Century, and did so with a very good academic record. He was 35th in his class of 276 cadets.