A snapshot biography of Henry Ossian Flipper

Historical sepia-toned photograph of Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African American graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. He is depicted in a formal military uniform with decorative cords and medals, embodying a dignified and pioneering figure in military history. The photograph has a border with the photographer's studio name, 'Kennedy,' and location, 'Wilberforce, O(hio),' printed on it.
Henry Ossian Flipper

Born enslaved in Georgia in 1856, just over twenty years later, Henry Ossian Flipper would become the first African American to graduate from West Point.

For Henry, schooling began at the age of eight in the woodshop of an enslaved man. His education continued at Missionary Schools and then at Atlanta University. However, his dream was to attend West Point.

Henry reached out to James C. Freeman, a state Congressman. After the two exchanged letters, the Congressman appointed Henry to be a cadet in 1873. Henry joined four other African Americans and became the first to graduate, a member of the Class of 1877.

In the Army, Henry became the first African American to command regular troops. But during his service, he was accused of embezzlement, an accusation many believed to be racially motivated. While found innocent of the main charge, Henry was found guilty “of conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.” He was dishonorably discharged in 1882. Nearly one hundred years later, President Jimmy Carter granted Henry a posthumous honorable discharge, and then, President Clinton posthumously pardoned Henry.

After his service, Henry worked a number of different jobs, including “surveyor, civil and military engineer, author, translator, special agent of the Justice Department, special assistant to the Secretary of the Interior with the Alaskan Engineering Commission, aide to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, as well as an authority on Mexican land and mining law.”


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