Sunday, February 8, 2015

Famous Black Firsts: First Commissioned Officer Henry Ossian Flipper

Henry Ossian Flipper was born on March 21st, 1856. He was the oldest of five brothers. Both of his parents were owned by a slave dealer. During Reconstruction he attended Atlanta University where he was encouraged to head to West Point. He and the other four Black students there were not exactly welcomed, but he got through it and became the first Black graduate of West Point. He earned a commission as a second lieutenant of the US Army cavalry. He then became the first Black officer to command troops in the Army. 

In 1881 was under the command of an Colonel that tolerated Black soldiers but hated seeing one that was an officer. Soon Flipper was asked to keep a location safe and realized that $2,000 was missing. He tried to cover this up knowing it could be used against him but was found out. He was arrested for embezzling government funds. He was eventually found innocent during a court martial but found guilty of, get this, “of conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman” and dismissed from the military. Could you imagine knowing that you were set up for some dirty stuff like this and no one believing you after making a career in the military? Two other officers were guilty of embezzlement but neither were discharged because they were White. Flipper spent the rest of his life attempting to get this charge dismissed. He ended up working in Latin America as an assistant to the Secretary of the Interior before retiring in 1931. He died in 1940. In 1994 his family asked the military to review his court martial. They found the punishment and conviction harsher than it should've been. In February of 1999 Bill Clinton pardoned Flipper.

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