John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing, Honorary GCB (September 13, 1860 – July 15, 1948), was an officer in the United States Army. Pershing is the only person to be promoted in his own lifetime to the highest rank ever held in the United States Army—General of the Armies. (A retroactive Congressional edict passed in 1976 declared that George Washington has never been nor will ever be outranked). Pershing led the American Expeditionary Force in World War I and was regarded as a mentor by the generation of American generals who led the United States Army in Europe during World War II, including George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar N. Bradley, and George S. Patton.
John J. Pershing was born on a farm near Laclede, Missouri. His father, John F. Pershing, was a businessman of German-American descent who owned a general store. When the Civil War began, Pershing Senior worked as a sutler for the 18th Missouri Volunteer Infantry, but he did not serve in the military.
Pershing attended a school in Laclede that was reserved for the more intelligent children who were children of high profile citizens. Upon graduation from secondary school in 1878, Pershing became a local teacher and became involved with educating local African American children. In this way, although living in an atmosphere of 19th century United States racism, Pershing developed an understanding of racial issues that would later come to play in his military career when he commanded a racially diverse unit of soldiers.