Henry Ossian Flipper (March 21, 1856 – May 3, 1940); Flipper was the first African-American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. After his graduation he was wrongfully court-martialed and dishonorably discharged. His good name was restored posthumously. Descendants of Flipper partitioned the U.S. Military to review the court martial records. In that review it was discovered that Flipper was unjustly dismissed from the military. His discharge was changed to a “good conduct” discharge. In addition, President Bill Clinton pardoned Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper in 1999.
Flipper was born to former slaves in Thomasville, Georgia. He was educated at what is now Clark University in Atlanta, Georgia. Henry O. Flipper was the fifth African-American to receive an appointment to West Point but the first to graduate. The hostility of white cadets proved intolerable for the other Black cadets. He described his experiences in his book, “The Colored Cadet at West Point” in 1878 (download a free copy below).
As a civilian, Flipper became an engineer, he also surveyed land and worked as a special agent for the U.S. government on southwestern land claims. Flipper was fluent in Spanish. He translated texts for Mexican tax, mining and land laws. He also worked in Mexico from 1901 to 1912 as a mining manager.
Flipper died of a heart attack on May 3, 1940. After his mistreatment by West Point was resolved, a bust of Flipper was erected at West Point. An annual “Henry O. Flipper Award” is granted to graduating cadets at West Point to those exhibiting “leadership, self-discipline and perseverance in the face of unusual difficulties”. His remains were interred in his native Thomasville, Georgia. Additionally, the post office, in Thomasville, is named in his honor.