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Gen. Michael E. Langley, First Black U.S. Marine Corps Four-Star General: a Black History Month Profile

February 5, 2024

Many trailblazers have started on their path within the hallways of Fort Worth ISD schools, and General Michael E. Langley is one of them.

School was not easy for Michael E. Langley, his father, Willie C. Langley, said. Once a coach told him that he would never amount to anything.  

“Of course, it hurt his feelings,” Willie C. Langley shared at a Benbrook City Council meeting in December 2023. “I said ‘don’t listen to him. We’re going to show him.”

Today, his son Michael, a 1980 Western Hills High School graduate, is the first Black four-star general in the U.S. Marine Corps’ nearly 250-year history. He serves as commander of the U.S. Africa Command. Based in Germany, the combatant U.S. Africa Command oversees “all U.S. military operations and activities to protect and advance U.S. national interests in Africa,” according to the command website.

Gen. Langley not only disproved his coach’s prediction but also etched his story into U.S. history.

In June 2022, President Joseph R. Biden nominated him for the promotion to general. He was confirmed by the Senate Armed Services Committee in August 2022. According to the MarineTimes, Gen. Langley is one of only 74 Marines to hold a four-star rank, with many being promoted after retiring or posthumously.  

"The milestone and what it means to the Corps is quite essential. Not because of the mark in history, but what it will affect going forward, especially for those younger across society that want to aspire and look at the Marine Corps as an opportunity," Gen. Langley said in a U.S. Marines web story in 2022. 

Gen. Langley graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington and was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in 1985. Over his nearly 40-year career, Gen. Langley has commanded units at all levels from platoon to regiment, serving in Afghanistan in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, as well as in Somalia and Okinawa, Japan. Gen. Langley has also served in senior roles at the Pentagon and the military’s Central Command managing Middle East operations. 

He received a formal military education from the U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School and College of Naval Command and Staff. A master’s degree in national security strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War College and strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College are among the advanced degrees he’s earned. 

In December 2023, the City of Benbrook awarded a proclamation designating a stretch of Boston Avenue between Camp Bowie Boulevard and Chapin Road with the honorary street name “General Michael E. Langley Way.” The signage, which is located across from his alma mater WHHS, was unveiled in a January ceremony, just days before the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. 's birthday. The ceremony was hosted by the Fort Worth Tarrant County NAACP. View video from the ceremony here

Estella Williams, the local NAACP president, who worked with the City of Benbrook to recognize its hometown hero, calls the street toppers historic and monumental.

“I felt that if we had such a person in our city, in our midst with such high honor, why not take the time to say thank you, we recognize you,” she said.

Gen. Langley’s parents, Willie and Ola, who still live on the street that now bears his name say they are elated by the honor.

“I mean it’s just unbelievable,” Ola M. Langley said. “I never dreamt anything like this would happen, but I’m so glad that he’s being honored. I’m grateful.”

FWISD District 7 Trustee Dr. Michael Ryan said “there’s nothing better” than having a street honoring Gen. Langley’s accomplishment that FWISD students can see.

“There will be students that ask questions. We can point to [the sign] and say he made a difference,” Ryan said at the Dec. 7, 2023 Benbrook council meeting. “He was a change leader throughout his entire career so far and will still be, so I’m excited to see this happen, I’m excited for Western Hills High School, and I appreciate all the efforts from the city of Benbrook to make this happen.”

Benbrook city officials and fraternity brothers of Gen. Langley said that his story is an inspiration that will be known by generations.

“In our fraternity, we have a phrase. It’s called a sense of achievement. Achievement is one of our core precepts,” said Richard Beene, Gen. Langley’s college friend and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. brother. “For young people coming down the street, and they look up and see that sign, they can Google his name … and say, ‘well if he can achieve this, then maybe I can achieve something great as well.’”

Learn more about Gen. Langley here.

Visit each week during Black History Month for Monday Motivation features highlighting FWISD alumni, educators and Fort Worth legends who’ve reached heights on local and national stages.