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Henry Flipper is dismissed from the military


On this day in 1882, Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African-American graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, was dismissed from the service for "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." Flipper, born a slave in Georgia in 1856, was the fifth black accepted to West Point but the first to graduate, in 1877. He accepted a commission as a second lieutenant and joined the Tenth United States Cavalry. He was eventually made quartermaster at Fort Davis, but Col. William Rufus Shafter relieved him in 1881; Flipper believed he was the victim of persecution and is said to have been warned by civilians at the post of a plot by white officers to force him from the army. The following year, when he discovered post funds missing from his quarters, he attempted to conceal the loss until he could find or replace the money. When Shafter learned of the discrepancy, he immediately filed charges against Flipper. A court-martial acquitted Flipper of embezzlement but pronounced him guilty of "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." He subsequently worked as a mining engineer in El Paso, Arizona, and Mexico, and later for the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. Flipper maintained his innocence until his death in 1940 and waged a lifelong battle for reinstatement in the army. In 1976, when a bust of him was unveiled at West Point, the Department of the Army granted Flipper an honorable discharge, dated June 30, 1882.

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