Redtails

The newest dormitory at West Point (actually, they call it a barracks) was dedicated in 2017, and named after General Benjamin O. Davis Jr.

This honor is the last thing anyone would have expected when Davis was a cadet in the 1930s.

The son of the first Black one-star general in U.S. Army history, Davis was also the only Black cadet during his entire time at the academy.

He wasn’t wanted. He was shunned. For his entire career at West Point, none of his classmates talked with Davis unless it was absolutely necessary.

He ate virtually every meal alone.

He never had a roommate, never had a friend.

Nobody helped him in any way, unless there was no other option.

“I was to be silenced solely because the cadets did not want Blacks at West Point,” Davis wrote in his autobiography in 1991. “Their only purpose was to freeze me out. What they did not realize was that I was stubborn.”

Davis persevered, graduated, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1936. At the time, he and his father were the only two Black officers in the entire U.S. Army.

He tried to become a pilot, but he was rejected because of his race. Instead, he started his career in the infantry, with the all-Black 24th Infantry Division.

Then, World War II came. The War Department, under pressure, created an experimental flying unit for Black soldiers—and Davis earned his wings as one of the first Black officers in the Air Corps.

By 1942, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and placed in command — first of the 99th Pursuit Squadron that saw action in North Africa, and later the 332nd Fighter Group, which fought in Italy. As an official U.S. Air Force account puts it:

Davis and his unit, nicknamed ‘Red Tails,’ for the distinctive markings on their planes, flew missions deep into German territory.

His pilots flew more than 15,000 sorties, downed 111 enemy planes, and destroyed or damaged 273 on the ground. Davis led many of those missions and was awarded the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts.

In July of 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order ending segregation within the military and Colonel Davis was instrumental in drafting the Air Force plan to implement this move.

He continued his career after the war, and ultimately retired as a three-star general in 1970. President Clinton promoted him in retirement to full general in 1998, the first Black officer to reach that rank in the Air Force.

He died on the Fourth of July in 2002.


The Washington Redskins of the NFL announced this week that after years of controversy, they’re retiring the team name and logo.

The most likely new name, according to online betting sites: the Washington Redtails, honoring Davis and the 931 other Tuskegee Airmen of World War II.

Other unofficial options (since the team hasn’t said which names they’re considering): the Presidents, Generals, Lincolns, Veterans, and Americans, among others. As one such betting site pointed out:

The ‘Redtails’ would also allow the team to almost seamlessly transition from Redskins. Washington’s fight song “Hail to the Redskins,” and substituting Redtails for Redskins in the song would allow the team to keep the “HTTR” motto.

Redtails would also be a nod to the history of African-American contributions in World War II, and a sly public relations move for [team owner Dan] Snyder who has long been heavily criticized for the perceived slur toward Native Americans.

“It would be an honor if it were chosen, and we would help them if they want to use ‘Redtails,’” Rick Sinkfield, a spokesman for Tuskegee Airmen Inc. told me via phone Thursday—although he noted the team hasn’t actually been in touch.

Anyway, at the end of the day it’s really just one person — Snyder, the owner, who previously swore he would “NEVER” change the name from Redskins — who will makes the call.

The idea comes during a time when we’re thinking about all kinds of more official monuments.

But, these are a group of Americans and veterans who deserve recognition, so maybe Redtails will be the pick.

And, apropos of nothing, over half of the population of Washington, D.C. is Black (according to 2010 census data).

And, while the so-called Washington football team actually plays its games in Maryland, that state has the fourth-highest proportion of Black residents, at about 30 percent.

Oh, and I just realized: both Davis and his father were born in Washington, D.C.

Hmmm. Anyway, if it were me, it’s the choice I’d make.

And then, we can all move onto less controversial questions, like whether the newly named Washington team will sign Colin Kaepnernick.

7 other things worth your time

  • In other Washington football news, 15 female employees of the team made claims of sexual harassment and verbal abuse by former team employees, in a Washington Post report. (247 Sports)

  • Mask mandates are growing, and the following U.S. states have some kind of statewide requirement that people wear masks in public: Alabama Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. Some other states have local mandates. (CNET)

  • Meanwhile, the governor of Georgia sued the mayor of Atlanta to prevent her from requiring masks. (CNN)

  • Mortgage rates are at the lowest level ever recorded (sub-3% for a 30-year fixed), while millions of Americans are likely to be evicted from their homes for inability to pay rent, as moratoriums on evictions expire. (Both links from Wall Street Journal)

  • A 100-year-old World War II veteran in England will be knighted today, after he raised more than $40 million for health care workers by walking laps in his garden. (NPR)

  • In a 2,500-word essay, Maryland’s GOP governor castigated President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and recounted the story of how his Korean-born wife helped him negotiate a deal to get assistance with testing from South Korea, after Washington wouldn’t help. Meanwhile, an anti-Trump book written by the president’s niece has already sold nearly 1 million copies, breaking the record for initial sales at Simon & Schuster. (The Washington Post, Detroit News)

  • Russia is trying to hack and steal Covid-19 vaccine research from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, according to intelligence agencies. (BBC)

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