photo courtesy: U.S. Army by Spc. James Harvey

The Long Gray Line's most historic African American graduates

February 07, 2019 - 11:55 am

 Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams is the 60th Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, and he's also the first African American officer to command West Point in its 216-year history.   Williams took command on July 2, 2018.

Williams grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, and graduated from West Point in 1983.  Among his previous positions, he served as the deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Army in Europe and the deputy commanding general for support for the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea. Before his appointment, Williams was commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command, based in Turkey.

photo courtesy: U.S. Military Academy via AP

A career Field Artillery officer, Lieutenant General Williams has served in key leadership positions at the tactical, operational and strategic levels during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in 2014, President Obama tasked him with leading Operation United Assistance to help fight the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.

West Point was founded in 1802 along the west bank of the Hudson River, 50 miles north of New York City. The military academy didn’t graduate its first African American cadet until the Reconstruction era in 1877.

Upon graduation, Flipper was assigned in July 1877 to the 10th United States Cavalry, one of two African American cavalry regiments organized after the Civil War. 

No African American had graduated in the 20th century when Benjamin O. Davis Jr. arrived  there in 1932. Davis ate alone, roomed alone and was shunned by fellow cadets because he was black. After graduating in 1936, he went on to command the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II and retired as an Air Force general in 1970. West Point recently named its newest cadet barracks for Davis.

photo courtesy DVIDs Hub

In 2017, less than a year before Williams’ appointment, Simone Askew, of Fairfax, Virginia, became the first female African American cadet to become first captain of the 4,400 West Point Corps of Cadets.  That's the top position in the cadet chain of command.  

photo courtesy: U.S. Army by Michelle Eberhart

The academy reports that the more than 1,200-member incoming class of 2020 includes 186 African-Americans, fewer than 20%.