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Unveiling the Power of "Invisible Generals" by Doug Melville: The First and Not to Be Forgotten Heroes

Updated: Feb 5

One of today’s most innovative and sought-after voices in diversity, equity, and inclusion, Doug Melville, CEO of Jodie AI, is a celebrated author and three-time TEDx speaker. A fifth-generation leader, Doug Melville’s family has worked under ten presidential administrations to advance all Americans' safety, equality, and fair treatment.  He has been the global head of diversity for a major international holding company and a top 10 global creative agency. 

Author Doug Melville On The Forgotten Story Of America's First Black Generals + More on the Breakfast Club No. 8, 2023

The incredible true story of America’s first Black generals, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. and Jr., a father and son who helped integrate the American military and created the Tuskegee Airmen. Perfect for fans of Devotion and Hidden Figures.

Prepare to be inspired as we delve into the incredible true story of Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., and Jr., America's first Black generals who played a pivotal role in integrating the American military and shaping history. This father-and-son duo shattered racial barriers. They laid the foundations for the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American pilots who defied all odds to become heroes in World War II. If you're a fan of uplifting narratives like "Devotion" and "Hidden Figures," get ready to be captivated by their courage, determination, and unwavering dedication to breaking down racial barriers in the face of adversity.

George Lucas’s film, Red Tails, was supposed to celebrate America’s first Black flying squadron, the Tuskegee Airmen, and should have been a moment of victory for Doug Melville. He expected to see his great-uncle Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the squadron's commander, immortalized on-screen for his selfless contributions to America. But as the film rolled, Doug was shocked to realize that Ben Jr.'s name had been omitted and replaced by the fictional Colonel A. J. Bullard. Ben's father, Benjamin O. Davis Sr., America's first Black general who played a crucial role in integrating the military, was also left out.

Dejected, Doug looked inward and realized that unless he worked to bring their inspirational story to light, it would remain hidden from the world just as it had been concealed.

In the depths of his despair, Doug had a profound realization. He understood that the extraordinary story within himself would forever remain hidden from the world unless he took action. In this moment of dejection, he found the strength to embark on a journey to bring his inspirational tale to light.

Doug's story, hidden by self-doubt and fear, is now emerging. With determination and resilience, he hopes to inspire others facing similar struggles.

Often during our darkest moments, we find the clarity and motivation to make a difference. In Doug's case, his inward reflection served as a catalyst for change – not just for himself but for those who could also benefit from hearing his story. By stepping out of his comfort zone and working tirelessly to bring this hidden narrative to light, Doug would inspire others facing their battles.

We all possess unique stories that have the power to uplift and inspire others. When we recognize this potential within ourselves, we can truly make a difference in the world. Doug's journey reminds us that no matter how concealed our experiences may seem, they possess immense value and deserve to be shared with compassion and authenticity.

So let us encourage one another to embrace our triumphant and challenging stories with open hearts. By doing so, we honor our journeys and create an environment where everyone feels seen, heard, and empowered. Together, we can shed light on hidden narratives and transform them into beacons of hope for all those who need it most.

In "Invisible Generals," Melville shares his quest to rediscover his family's story across five generations, from post-Civil War America to modern-day Asia and Europe. The Davises were unjustly denied the recognition and compensation they had rightfully earned. Still, through his journey, Melville uncovers something more significant: that dedication and self-sacrifice can move proverbial mountains—even in a world determined to make you invisible.

Interview with Doug Melville| Chief Diversity Officer, TBWA Chiat Day Portrait: Tom Kubik

The Impact of "Invisible Generals" on History and Society

Through the captivating journey of a father and son's unwavering faith in the American dream, Invisible Generals delves into the power of legacy as Melville embarks on a mission to honor their untold stories and inspire others to reclaim their forgotten family narratives. Invisible Generals recounts the lives of a father and son who always maintained their belief in the American dream. As the inheritor of their legacy, Melville retraces their steps, advocates for them to receive their long-overdue honors, and unlocks the potential we all hold to retrieve powerful family stories lost to the past.

Benjamin O. Davis Sr: A Trailblazer in Unveiling the Stories of "Invisible Generals"

Lt. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. played a vital role in opening up the skies and the entire military for Black Soldiers. Davis spent over 35 years in the military, breaking barriers at every level. He served all over the world, fighting against segregation both on and off the battlefield. His service demonstrated that Black Soldiers were just as brave and capable as their white counterparts. Davis played a crucial role in integrating the Air Force, becoming the service's first Black general and paving the way for future African Americans to pursue similar opportunities.

Born in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 18, 1912, to Elnora and Benjamin O. Davis Sr., Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr. grew up in a military family. At the time, Davis Sr. was one of only two Black officers in the Army. Davis Sr. taught his son about the world and the Army early on. As a member of a military family, Davis Jr. moved frequently and witnessed the harsh realities that Black Americans faced in both the military and everyday life. Motivated to fight against segregation, he believed that his best contribution could be made through military service.

Davis graduated from Central High School in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1929, hoping to become a pilot. He attended the University of Chicago for college until he received a recommendation from Rep. Oscar S. De Priest, the only Black congressman at the time, to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Davis entered West Point in 1932 and immediately encountered discrimination and racism. He was the first Black cadet to attend West Point in the 20th century and only the fourth ever to do so. Throughout his four years at the academy, he never had a roommate, ate his meals silently, and was only spoken to when necessary. Despite attempts to discourage and belittle him, Davis graduated from West Point in 1936 in the top 20% of his class. However, Davis became a second lieutenant in the infantry since there were no Black flying units. He was assigned to the 24th Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia, which was renamed and currently known as Fort Moore.

He stayed at Fort Benning for two years, graduating from infantry school. Instead of joining another infantry regiment, he chose to go to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama (now Tuskegee University) to receive training as a reserve officer. In 1941, he finally had the opportunity to fly when his father, then Brig. Gen. Davis Sr. helped convince President Franklin Roosevelt to establish an all-Black unit in the Army Air Forces. The Army was seeking a Black West Point graduate to lead the squadron, and at that time, Davis Jr. was the only active Black academy graduate. In March 1942, Davis earned his wings and fulfilled his pilot dream. Within a year, he commanded a unit of 1,000 Black pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Promoted to lieutenant colonel, Davis led the 99th Fighter Squadron, the first all-Black unit in the Army Air Forces. In March 1943, the 99th deployed to North Africa to fight Axis troops in the region. In October of the same year, he returned to the U. S. and assumed command of the 332nd Fighter Group. They joined the 99th in Italy in December. While overseas, discrimination and racism continued to play a significant role in daily life. White officers questioned the combat performance of the individuals to such an extent that Davis returned to the U. S. to defend their record. He faced several days of questioning from Congress. However, he never backed down from his stance that his airmen provided valuable and courageous service in battle.

They achieved an impressive record during the two years that Davis Jr. commanded the Tuskegee Airmen. While in Europe, the Tuskegee Airmen shot down more than twice the number of aircraft they lost, destroyed miles of rail lines, sank over 40 ships (including an enemy destroyer), and completed escort missions without losing a single bomber. For his service during World War II, he received a Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Davis and the Tuskegee Airmen played a vital role in integrating the military. With their outstanding service record, the military can no longer use the excuse that Black soldiers are inferior in battle or unfit to lead.

Davis joined the U. S. Air Force in September 1947 when it separated from the Army. Drawing on his experience with the Tuskegee Airmen, Davis advocated for integrating the Air Force at the earliest opportunity. At the time of the Air Force's establishment, Black Soldiers comprised over 20% of the founding Airmen, surpassing the 10% quota the Army and Navy set. The segregation of Airmen was seen as illogical and impractical by senior staff in the Air Force and the Pentagon. 1948 President Harry Truman officially integrated the military through an Executive Order. The following year, the Air Force became the first branch of the military to integrate.

Davis continued to break barriers even after integration. In 1950, he became the first Black military officer to attend any War College, graduating from the Air War College. After two years of service at the Pentagon, Davis was appointed commander of a fighter wing based in South Korea. This significant achievement made him the first Black officer to lead an integrated fighter wing, demonstrating that white pilots and officers could both respect and follow the orders of a Black officer. After achieving success in Korea, Davis was promoted to brigadier general, making him the first Black general in the Air Force. Over the next several years, Davis traveled throughout Europe and Asia, training pilots and establishing defenses against enemy threats. He retired in 1970 after serving as the deputy commander of the U. S. Strike Command (now U. S. Special Operations Command).

Davis served nearly 40 years in the military and continued serving his community in retirement. He became the director of public safety in Cleveland, Ohio, the director for Civil Aviation Security. He even served as an assistant secretary in the U. S. Department of Transportation under President Ronald Reagan.

Although Davis Jr. retired as a lieutenant general, President Bill Clinton promoted him to four-star general in 1998. On July 4, 2002, he passed away at the age of 89 and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, next to his wife Agatha, just a few yards away from the burial site of his parents. Throughout his military career, Davis fought tirelessly for the rights of Black Soldiers. His achievements stand as a shining example of what Black soldiers were capable of, permanently changing the nature of the military forever.

Lessons We Can Learn from the Lives of "Invisible Generals"

The lives of "Invisible Generals" hold valuable lessons that can inspire and guide us in our journeys. By studying their stories, we can better understand the importance of teaching history and the resilience that can be cultivated in times of adversity.

History is a powerful tool for learning, allowing us to draw upon the experiences, wisdom, and failures of those who came before us. The stories of these "Invisible Generals" shed light on the often-overlooked members of our community who have made significant contributions to our country and the world. But do not receive the recognition they deserve due to narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and racism.

This book supports the argument that we cannot rewrite history and simply cease teaching uncomfortable topics. These unsung heroes faced numerous challenges and setbacks but persevered with remarkable resilience. We can learn and teach future generations to be better and do better by examining the unwarranted adversity these men and women faced. And sadly, many still do face it.

As we delve into their narratives, let us reflect on how we can apply these lessons. By embracing history as a teacher and drawing inspiration from those who have gone before us, we can cultivate resilience in adversity and become better leaders ourselves.


I’m Ehren Muhammad,

I devote my professional life to helping creative entrepreneurs and small business owners reach their goals. So stay in touch by dropping a comment, let’s connect on Instagram and Twitter!


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