Born in 1856 in Thomasville, Georgia, Henry Ossian Flipper was nine at the end of the Civil War. His parents, part of a privileged upper class of slaves, were allowed to operate an independent business under the protection of their owner. This placed Henry in an excellent position to take advantage of new educational opportunities opening up to African Americans and he graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1877.
Flipper served at Fort Sill in what is now Oklahoma; took part in the Indian Wars; and served at Fort Davis in Texas, where a court-martial relating to missing funds ended his Army career with a dishonorable discharge. He later was an assistant to the Secretary of the Interior during the early 1920s Harding administration, and died in 1940.
Investigations into the circumstances of Flipper's court-martial resulted in an upgrade to honorable discharge in 1976 and a posthumous pardon from President Clinton in 1999. Passages from Flipper's 1878 autobiography and excerpts from contemporary military reports and newspaper articles contribute firsthand observations to this biography of West Point's first black graduate.
Don Cusic — Don Cusic is professor of music business at the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Cusic, Don. The trials of Henry Flipper, first black graduate of West Point. McFarland, 2009. 212p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780786439690 pbk. Reviewed in 2009nov CHOICE.
Henry Flipper, born into slavery in 1856, survived racial tension and became the first black graduate of West Point. He served with the buffalo soldiers in the 1870s before being convicted in a court-martial on charges of alleged embezzlement. His engineering background and bilingualism helped him in a postmilitary career as a surveyor, translator, consultant on Mexican affairs, and assistant to Senator Albert Fall in Washington, DC. Following the Teapot Dome Scandal, Flipper retired to Atlanta where he died in 1940, having witnessed US developments from the Civil War through the outbreak of WW II. Pardoned by President Clinton, Henry Flipper needs biographical treatment; his life illustrates the challenges faced by the African American community as the country moved from slavery through segregation to the initiation of the Civil Rights Movement. This biography does not do the story justice. The text includes more on the court-martial than appropriate, frequently engages in tangents, and fails to give readers the biography that Flipper deserves. Based largely on previously published studies, newspapers, and official records, the book offers little that is new.
Summing Up: Optional. General collections/public libraries. -- T. F. Armstrong, Louisiana State University at Alexandria