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Black History in Texas
Dr. Juliet E. K. Walker
Professor, Department of History
Outline of Texas
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Henry Ossian Flipper, 1856-1940    

America's First Black Graduate of West Point, Second Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper served with the Buffalo Soldiers Company A, 10th Cavalry Regiment on several forts in TexasHenry O. Flipper

Henry Ossian Flipper was born a slave in Thomasville, Georgia in 1856. After the Civil War he was educated in schools established by the American Missionary Association Schools. In 1873 Flipper was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in 1877. While he was the fifth Black to attend West Point, he was the nation's first African-American to graduate from West Point. Commissioned a second lieutenant, Flipper was assigned to the 10th Cavalry, first in Fort Sill, Indian Territory and then to various posts in Texas at Forts Elliott, Concho, Quitman, and Davis, His military assignments included scouting, engineer surveyor, and construction supervisor, post adjutant, acting assistant and post quartermaster, and commissary officer.      

In 1881, while stationed to run a commissary at Fort Davis, Texas, Flipper was accused by his commanding officer of  "embezzling funds and of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." He was court-martialed.  Although subsequently acquitted of the embezzlement charge, he was found guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer and in 1882 dismissed from the Army.  

Still, he continued to serve American government in addition to working for private engineering firms. Flipper lived in El Paso after his army dismissal and from 1883  to 1890 worked as an engineer and surveyor in Texas and Mexico for private American companies. Then in 1890, Flipper opened his own civil and mining engineering office in Arizona.From 1893-1901, Flipper became a special agent of the Justice Department. He continued working as an engineer for an American firm in Mexico until the Mexican Revolution, when he returned to live in El Paso. In 1919, he served as an interpreter and translator for a Senate subcommittee on foreign relations, and in 1921, he was appointed a special assistant to the Secretary of the Interior and worked with the Alaskan Engineering Commission. From 1923 to 1930, Flipper worked as a consultant for a New York-based oil company.

Also, 1921 was appointed a special assistant to the Secretary of the Interior with the Alaskan Engineering Commission, Flipper was also an aide to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations He also became an authority on Mexican land and mining law, with his expertise published by the Department of Justice. .

Until his death, Flipper maintained his innocence. 
In 1999,  he was pardoned by President William Jefferson Clinton, who said: "The army exonerated him in 1976, changed his discharge to honorable and reburied him with full honors. But one thing remained to be done, and now it will be. With great pleasure and humility, I now offer a full pardon to Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper of the United States Army." 
Also, in 1999, a United States Post Office was named after Flipper. At that dedication ceremony, Lt. Gen. Larry Jordan, the Army's inspector general said that: "only 55 African-Americans graduated between Flipper in 1877 and his class of 1968" 
Henry Ossian Flipper Autobiography
West Point Register of Graduates
Lieutenant Henry Ossian Flipper
Views on Flipper's Court Martial
Flipper in El Paso and Arizona
Handbook of Texas, Dinges, "Flipper,"
U.S. Military Report
Clinton Ceremony Remarks
Flipper Post Office Ceremony
Top Blacks in Government

Bruce J. Dinges, "The Court-Martial of Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper," American West (January 1972).

Henry Ossian Flipper, The Colored Cadet at West Point (New York: Lee, 1878; rpt., New York: Arno Press and New York Times, 1969).

Henry Ossian Flipper, Spanish and Mexican Land Laws: New Spain and Mexico  (Washington, DC: Department of Justice, 1895).

Theodore D. Harris, ed., Negro Frontiersman: The Western Memoirs of Henry O. Flipper (El Paso: Texas Western College Press, 1963).

Theodore D. Harris, ed. , Black Frontiersman: The Memoirs of Henry O. Flipper, first Black Graduate of West Point (Fort Worth, Texas: Texas Christian University Press, 1997) . .

Steve Wilson, "A Black Lieutenant in the Ranks," American History Illustrated, (December 1983).

"FLIPPER, HENRY OSSIAN." The Handbook of Texas Online. <http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/FF/ffl13.html>

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Last Modified: April 20, 2003