Henry Ossian Flipper (1856-1940) was the first African-American graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1877. Born into slavery in Thomasville, Georgia, he came from a family of achievers; his brothers were an African Methodist Episcopal Bishop, a college professor and a farmer.
Commissioned as Lieutenant in the 10th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, also known as the Buffalo Soldiers, Flipper was stationed at bases in western states and territories. At Fort Sill, Oklahoma, he designed a drainage system, now a National Historic Landmark known as "Flipper's Ditch," that removed standing water, thus minimizing malaria outbreaks.
Despite his many accomplishments, Flipper is most remembered as a victim of racism. In 1882, at Fort Davis, Texas, he was court-martialled on questionable charges. He was eventually acquitted of all charges save one: conduct unbecoming an officer.
Dismissed from the army, Flipper went on to become a civil mining engineer, surveyor, translator, newspaper editor, historian and folklorist in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. For 10 years, he lived in El Paso, working for prominent mining companies. He was appointed Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior during the Harding administration. Flipper tried, but was unable, to clear his name before his death in 1940.
In 1976, the U.S. Army granted Lt. Flipper an honorable discharge, and he received a full presidential pardon of all charges in 1999.