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This Day in Georgia History

March 21, 1856

Henry O. Flipper Born

To view an image of Henry O. Flipper, see the Digital Library of Georgia.

African-American U.S. Army officer Henry Ossian Flipper was born into slavery in Thomasville, Georgia. After his father purchase the family’s freedom in 1865, they moved to Atlanta, where Henry attended private schools and Atlanta University. In 1872, Henry enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he became the first African-American graduate in 1877. Upon graduation, Flipper was assigned to the Tenth Cavalry Regiment, popularly known as the Buffalo Soldiers. Flipper became post engineer and succeeded in draining some stagnant pools where all other efforts had failed. Serving next at Fort Davis in Texas, Flipper was accused by his commanding officer of embezzlement and conduct unbecoming an officer. Although acquitted of the allegation, he was convicted of the second charge and dismissed from the Army with a court-martial. Flipper insisted the dismissal was due to prejudice and tried throughout his life to have his record cleaned. He went on to a very successful career in civilian life; his special knowledge of Mexican law and engineering led to a position with the Department of Justice from 1893-1910. He later served as assistant to to the Secretary of the Interior under President Warren G. Harding. Flipper continued his efforts to clear his name, having his court-martial reviewed in 1898, and having several hearings before the Committee on Military Affairs in the 1920s. In 1930, Flipper retired and lived with his brother in Atlanta. He died in 1940, never having his name cleared officially. But the fight went on with his family, and finally (through the work of his niece) the case was reviewed by the U.S. Army Board for the Correction of Military Records and his court martial was overturned in 1976 – granting Flipper an honorable discharge. His vindication was completed on Feb. 19, 1999, when President Bill Clinton granted Flipper a full pardon.