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Henry Flipper Court-Martial: 1881

Flipper's Later Fate

Flipper took up a career as the first professional African-American civil and mining engineer, eventually attaining several federal appointments and becoming a recognized authority on Mexican and South American law. From the outset and throughout his life, Flipper tried every possible means to get the judgment overturned, but he died in 1940 without succeeding. In 1976, however, thanks greatly to the efforts of the eighth African American to graduate from West Point, Minton Francis (Class of 1944), and Ray McColl, a white Georgia schoolteacher, an army administrative board upgraded Flipper's discharge to "Honorable" and dated it June 30, 1882. But according to the Justice Department, Flipper remained on record as a convicted felon. The only way to change that was to get a court to retry the case and overturn the finding of guilt—or to get a presidential pardon. In 1994, a West Point graduate (Class of 1966) and lawyer, Thomas Carhart, while working at Princeton on his Ph.D. dissertation about the first African Americans at West Point, decided to take up Flipper's case. After Carhart enlisted the support of others in the legal community, the case was subjected to a close analysis. Among other points, Carhart showed that white officers convicted of more serious crimes had not been dishonorably discharged. Finally, on February 19, 1999, President Bill Clinton signed the first posthumous presidential pardon in American history. Henry Flipper's name was finally cleared.

John S. Bowman

Suggestions for Further Reading

Carhart, Thomas M. III. African American WVest Pointers During the Nineteenth Century. Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1998.

"Court Martial Proceedings of Henry 0. Flipper, File QQ2952, Record Group 153." Washington, D.C.: National Archives.

Flipper, Henry Ossian. The Colored Cadet at West Point. New York: Homer Lee & Co., 1878.

——. Negro Frontiersman. El Paso Tex.: Western College Press, 1963.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Henry Flipper Court-Martial: 1881 - A Different Kind Of Trial, The Court-martial, Flipper's Later Fate, Suggestions For Further Reading