Photo credits: U.S. House National Archives
Henry Ossian Flipper (pictured) was a former slave. He eventually became the first African-American who graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1877.
Flipper gained a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army. Following his appointment, Flipper was sent to one of the US Army’s all-Black regiments, which had previously been overseen by white commanders. Flipper was commissioned to a Troop under Captain Nicholas M. Nolan’s command.
He became the 10th Cavalry’s first non-white commander to command Buffalo Soldiers. During the Apache Wars and the Victorio Campaign, Flipper performed admirably. However, he was roiled by suspicions of improprieties. He was tried, convicted, and discharged from the US Army at one time.
Flipper worked across Mexico and Latin America after losing his Army commission, as well as as an assistant to the Secretary of the Interior. In 1931, he moved to Atlanta and died of natural causes in 1940. His relatives applied to the US military in 1976 to have his conviction in a military court and discharge overturned.
Flipper’s dismissal should have been altered to a good conduct discharge, according to a review. The conviction and sentence were “unduly severe and unfair.” A pardon application was filed with the Secretary of the Army shortly after, and it was transmitted to the Department of Justice.
On February 19, 1999, U.S. President Bill Clinton pardoned U.S. Army Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper posthumously.