First African American graduate of West Point

First African American graduate of West Point

Henry Ossian Flipper, born into slavery in Thomasville, Georgia, in 1856, becomes the first African American cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York on June 14, 1877.

The United States Military Academy—the first military school in America—was founded by Congress in 1802 for the purpose of educating and training young men in the theory and practice of military science. Established at West Point, New York, the U.S. Military Academy is often simply known as West Point.

In 1870, the first African American cadet, James Webster Smith, was admitted to West Point but never reached the graduation ceremonies. It was not until 1877 that Henry Ossian Flipper became the first black cadet to graduate.

Flipper was born to enslaved parents but came of age in Atlanta during Reconstruction. He was educated at American Missionary Association schools and Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). In 1873, he was appointed to West Point. As he later wrote in his 1878 autobiography, The Colored Cadet at West Point, he was socially ostracized by white peers and professors during his four years there.

After graduation, Flipper was appointed to serve as second lieutenant in the all-African American 10th Cavalry and stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. The Ninth and 10th Cavalry were regiments of black enlisted men who became known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

While at Fort Sill, Flipper negotiated with local Native American tribes and supervised several engineering projects, including the building of roads and telegraph lines. A drainage system he designed became known as "Flipper's Ditch" and is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

In 1881, he was accused of stealing over $3,000 in commissary funds and relieved of duty. Though a court-martial found him not guilty of embezzlement, he was dishonorably discharged for "unbecoming conduct" in 1882.

Flipper went on to a distinguished career as a civilian engineer and surveyor, and later served in Washington, D.C. as a consultant on Mexican relations. Flipper maintained his innocence throughout his later years and fought to clear his name. He died on May 3, 1940, in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1976, the Army upgraded his discharge to honorable. And in 1999, President Bill Clinton granted Flipper a posthumous pardon, saying, "Henry Flipper did all his country asked him to do."

READ MORE: Who Were the Buffalo Soldiers?


African-American Woman Becomes First To Earn West Point’s Top Cadet Position

A 20-year-old native of Fairfax, Virginia, has just been selected to serve as the West Point Corps of Cadets’ brigade commander — or “first captain” — making her the first African-American woman to hold the highest student position in the United States Military Academy’s 215-year history, according to the Army.

Cadet Simone Askew assumed her duties as first captain for the 2017-2018 academic year on Aug. 14, making her accountable for the overall performance of the academy’s 4,400 cadets. In addition to setting the class agenda, Askew will act as a liaison between the Corps of Cadets and the school’s military administration.

“Simone truly exemplifies our values of Duty, Honor, Country,” Brig. Gen. Steven W. Gilland, commandant of cadets, said in a statement earlier this month. “I know Simone and the rest of our incredibly talented leaders within the Class of 2018 will provide exceptional leadership to the Corps of Cadets in the upcoming academic year.”

Founded in 1802, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point trains and educates students to become commissioned officers in the Army and has been the launching point for some of the most illustrious careers in military history.

As The New York Times notes, appointment to the first captain position is often a herald of future success. Former first captains include Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, who currently commands U.S. forces in South Korea, as well as Gen. John W. Nicholson, the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Askew’s appointment to first captain is the culmination of years of hard work, perseverance, and leadership skills development. In high school, she helmed the volleyball team, served as the school president, and started the school’s Black Student Union. As The New York Times reports, she skipped her crowning as homecoming queen to attend a West Point recruiting event.

“Some cadets that are really high performing, they just go about their own business,” Col. Diane Ryan of the department of behavioral sciences and leadership at West Point told The New York Times. “[Askew] is just a leader in every sense of the word, figuring out how she can connect people together and serve others.”

Askew, an international history major, is now the fourth woman to earn the first captain position since 1976, when West Point first opened its doors to women they now account for approximately 20% of cadets. That’s a relatively low number, given the fact that more women than men have been enrolling in colleges across the United States in recent years, according to theBoston Globe.

African-American women in particular are especially underrepresented at the academy — which, according to The New York Times, has yet to see more than 20 graduate in a single class. Pat Walter Locke, the first African-American woman to graduate from West Point, told The Times that she never thought she’d see a female first captain in her lifetime.

“Simone looks like America,” said Locke, who retired as an Army air defense artillery major in 1995. “Everybody can see themselves in Simone. This is such a historic moment.”


New member of Craftsmen's Guild of Mississippi

Makupson, making a name for herself with her macrame jewelry, is among the newest members of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi, a respected and long-standing institution in the state’s cultural landscape. Founded in 1973, guild members are chosen through a selective process.

Makupson first worked with macrame to create plant hangers when she was a teenager.

“I first started macrame when I attended Grenada High School in 1978,” she said. “I used jute rope to make several plant hangers. I started doing micro macrame to make jewelry in 2018.”

A photo from a West Point yearbook shows Kathleen Makupson, then Kathleen Terry, as a cadet at West Point. She was the first African American female from Mississippi to graduate from West Point. (Photo: Courtesy/Kathleen Makupson)

A high-energy person, Makupson also has a business that uses software to create custom images on T-shirts and she dabbles in hand building objects with slabs of clay.

“I can’t be idle,” she said. “I’ve got to be doing something.”

With waxed polyester thread the size of embroidery floss or sewing thread, Makupson creates micro macrame necklaces, earrings and bracelets.


Notable Graduates

The United States Military Academy ranks fourth among the nation's colleges and universities in number of Rhodes Scholars with 90. Since 1973, 40 cadets have earned Hertz Foundation fellowships in Applied Physical Science disciplines, and 36 cadets since 1983 have been awarded a Marshall Scholarship to attend a British university.

CLASS OF 1991
Anthony Noto, CFO of Twitter

CLASS OF 1990
Kristin Baker,First woman Brigade Commander, U.S. Corps of Cadets.

CLASS OF 1989
Kelly Perdew, Winner of Donald Trump's "The Apprentice 2"

CLASS of 1986
Joe DePinto, CEO of 7-Eleven

CLASS of 1982
Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson

CLASS OF 1980
Andrea Lee Hollen,Rhodes Scholar. First woman graduate of USMA.

CLASS OF 1976
Richard Morales, Jr.,Rhodes Scholar and physician. Morales was the first Hispanic cadet to serve as First Captain (cadet brigade commander).

Major General (Retired) Ronald Johnson, NBA Senior Vice President, Referee Operations

CLASS OF 1975
Robert Alan McDonald, CEO of Proctor & Gamble

CLASS OF 1969
Michael W. Krzyzewski,Krzyzewski currently serves as the head men’s basketball coach for Duke University.

CLASS OF 1967
William Foley II, Chairman of Fidelity National Financial, Inc.

CLASS OF 1964
Barry R. McCaffrey, McCaffrey’s many positions during his 32 years of military service include serving as deputy U.S. Representative to NATO from 1988-89, and later as Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Southern Command from 1994-96. After his retirement, he served as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy during the Clinton administration from 1997-2001.

CLASS OF 1962
James V. Kimsey, Kimsey was the founding chairman of America On Line, and in 1996 was named their chairman emeritus. He also founded the Kimsey Foundation in 1996.

CLASS OF 1959
Pete Dawkins, Rhodes Scholar, Heisman Trophy Winner, Chairman and CEO Primerica.

CLASS OF 1957
John Block, Secretary of Agriculture, Reagan Administration, 1981-86.

CLASS OF 1956
H. Norman Schwarzkopf, As Commander-in-Chief, United States Central Command from 1988-91, Schwarzkopf's command ultimately responded to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait with the largest U.S. deployment since the Vietnam War, including portions of the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps as well as units from dozens of nations around the world. The success of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm marked what former President George Bush hailed as "the beginning of a new era of internationalism." After retiring, Schwarzkopf received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

CLASS OF 1954
John R. Galvin, Among his many position, Galvin served as the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and the Commander-in-Chief, United States European Command from 1987-1992.

CLASS OF 1953
Randolph Araskog, President and chairman of IT&T.

Thoralf M. Sundt, Doctor of Neurosurgery at the Mayo Clinic.

CLASS OF 1952

Edward White II, Astronaut 1962-67 first American to walk in space, 1965 died in Apollo spacecraft fire, 1967.

Michael Collins, Astronaut 1964-70 command module pilot, first manned lunar landing director of the National Air & Space Museum.

CLASS OF 1951
Roscoe Robinson, Jr., Commanding general, 82nd Airborne Division 1976-78 commanding general, U.S. Army Japan 1980-82 U.S. Representative to NATO Military Committee, 1982-85 first African American four-star general in the Army, 1982.

Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, Astronaut 1963-72 participated in the first manned lunar landing.

CLASS OF 1950
Frank Borman, Astronaut 1962-70 commander of the first circumlunar flight president of Eastern Airlines.

Fidel V. Ramos, One of the Academy’s international cadets, Ramos served as a Philippine Army officer after graduation. He eventually became the country’s military’s Chief of Staff and later Secretary of National Defense. He later served as President of the Republic of the Philippines from 1992-1998.

CLASS OF 1949
John G. Hayes, Former president, Coca-Cola Bottling Co.

Ralph Puckett, Puckett formed and commanded the 8th Army Ranger Company during the Korean War. Following the war, Puckett served as commander of the Mountain Ranger Division of the Ranger Department, and as the Ranger advisor in the U.S. Army Mission to Colombia where he planned and established the Colombian Army Ranger School.

CLASS OF 1947
Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Chief of Staff to the president 1973-74 Supreme Allied Commander in Europe 1974-79 president, United Technologies Corporation 1980-81 Secretary of State 1981-82.

Brent Scowcroft, Military assistant to the President, 1972 National Security Advisor, Bush Administration.

CLASS OF 1946
Wesley W. Posvar, Rhodes Scholar chancellor, University of Pittsburgh.

Reuben Pomerantz, Former president, Holiday Inns of America.

CLASS OF 1941
Alexander R. Nininger, Killed before his 24th birthday, Alexander "Sandy" Nininger died a hero. His heroism, character and commitment to the West Point ideals of Duty, Honor and Country made him worthy of emulation by future Army Officers. Nininger single-handedly charged into the enemy positions with a rifle, grenades and fixed bayonet. For his heroism "above and beyond the call of duty," President Roosevelt posthumously awarded him the Medal of Honor. In his honor for outstanding leadership and the virtues he embodied, the Corps of Cadets named the First Division of Cadet Barracks in his memory.

William T. Seawell, Commandant of Cadets, U.S. Air Force Academy 1961-63 former chairman of the board and chief executive officer, Pan Am World Airways.

CLASS OF 1936
Creighton W. Abrams, Jr., Abrams commanded the 37th Tank Battalion in World War II. He served in the Korean War as a Corps Chief of Staff and commanded at all levels from regiment through corps. General Abrams commanded the U.S. Army Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, from 1968 to 1972. He successfully ensured the safe withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam at the end of the conflict. Appointed Chief of Staff of the Army in 1972, he guided the rebuilding of the Army. The Abrams main battle tank is named in his honor.

CLASS OF 1933
William O. Darby, Darby organized and commanded the 1st U.S. Army Ranger Battalion in 1942. From 2,000 volunteers, Darby selected and trained 500 Rangers that successfully operated in North Africa and Tunisia. Darby trained and organized two more Ranger Battalions in 1943. The 1st, 3rd, and 4th Ranger Battalions were known as "Darby's Rangers," and were famous for their endeavors in the Sicilian and Italian campaigns. He was killed while leading a task force from the 10th Mountain Division in Northern Italy and posthumously promoted to brigadier general.

CLASS OF 1929
Frank D. Merrill, Commanded the 5307th Composite Unit, also known as Merrill's Marauders, in 1944. Following World War II, Merrill served as Chief of Staff of the Western Defense Command, and later served as Chief of Staff and as Commander of the 6th Army. In 1947, he became deputy Chief of the American Military Advisory Mission to the Philippines.

CLASS OF 1922
Maxwell D. Taylor, Commanded the 101st Airborne Division on D-Day, and during the Battle of the Bulge and the drive through Germany. Taylor served as Superintendent, USMA, 1945-49. He returned to Germany as U.S. Commander, Berlin, 1949-51, then took command of the Eighth Army, Korea, 1953-54. Taylor was Army Chief of Staff, 1955-59 and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1962-64 after retirement in 1964, with the rank of General, Taylor served as U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, 1964.

CLASS OF 1917
Mark W. Clark, Clark succeeded Ridgway as U.S. and Supreme Allied Commander, Far East, from 1952-53. He successfully negotiated the armistice with the Communist forces in North Korea in July 1953, and later served as president of The Citadel, a military college in Charleston, S.C., from 1954-65.

Matthew B. Ridgway, Ridgway served in many positions during World War II, including commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division and commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Later, he served as U.S. and Supreme Allied Commander, Far East, from 1951-52, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, from 1952-53, and Army Chief of Staff from 1953-55.

CLASS OF 1915
Omar N. Bradley, Commanding general, 1st Army, 12th Army Group European Theater in World War II Army Chief of Staff 1948-49 first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 1949-53 chairman of the board of Bulova Watch Company 1958.

Dwight D. Eisenhower,, Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe 1943-45 Army Chief of Staff 1945-48 president of Columbia University 1948 President of the United States 1953-61.

CLASS OF 1909
George S. Patton, Jr., Member of the 1912 U.S. Olympic Team commanding general of the 7th Army 1942-44, commander of the 3rd Army European Theater 1944-45.

CLASS OF 1907
Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, Pioneer of Army Aviation General of the Air Force 1949.

CLASS OF 1906
Adna R. Chaffee, Jr.,Chaffee is known as the “father of the Armor Branch.” Despite a lifelong love of horses and riding, he spearheaded the movement of the American Army into "armored warfare."

CLASS OF 1903
Douglas MacArthur,Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy 1919-22 Army Chief of Staff 1930-35 Supreme Commander of the Pacific 1941-45 Supreme Commander, UN Forces Korea 1950-51.

CLASS OF 1889
Antonio Barrios,Barrios, the Academy’s first international cadet to graduate, went on to serve as Guatemala’s minister of public works.

CLASS OF 1886
John J. Pershing,Commander-in-chief of the Allied Expeditionary Force in World War I General of the Armies 1919.

CLASS OF 1880
George Washington Goethals,Architect and builder of the Panama Canal.

CLASS OF 1877
Henry O. Flipper,Civil and mining engineer in Southwest U.S. and Mexico first African-American graduate of the Military Academy.

CLASS OF 1861
George A. Custer,After establishing a reputation of daring and brilliance in battle, Custer served as an aide to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, Class of 1846, during the Peninsular Campaign and was commissioned a brigadier general at the age of 23. After conducting several successful operations in 1864, he was placed at the head of the 3rd Division, Calvary Corps, and was brevetted major general of volunteers. In 1876, he and his regiment of 655 men were defeated at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

CLASS OF 1854
Oliver O. Howard,Founder and president of Howard University.

James E. B. Stuart,As a cavalry officer and later as commanding general of cavalry in the Confederate Army, Stuart distinguished himself and his cavalry brigade for acts of valor and gallantry. He fought in many fierce battles, including the Battle of Seven Pines he led multiple raids on Gen. Ewell's depots he protected the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg. He was killed during a battle against forces commanded by Sheridan.

CLASS OF 1847
Ambrose P. Hill,Hill is best known for his performance as an aggressive Confederate division commander who could move his troops at astonishing speeds. His finest hour was the forced march from Harper's Ferry to Antietam, which saved Lee's Army during the Civil War. In May of 1863, Lee described Hill as “the best soldier of his grade with me.” Fort A. P. Hill, Va., was named in his honor.

CLASS OF 1846
Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson,Lieutenant general and a corps commander of the Confederate Army killed at Chancellorsville.

George B. McClellen,Graduating second in his class, McClellan served as Commanding General of the Army from 1861-62. He was nominated for President in 1864, and served as governor of his home state of N.J., from 1878-1881. Fort McClellan, Ala., was named in his honor.

George E. Pickett,At Gettysburg, Pa., in 1863, Pickett led more than 4,500 Confederate troops over half a mile of broken ground against withering artillery and musket fire. With parade drill precision they descended one slope, ascended the next, and assaulted the formidable Union line only to be forced back in defeat. Less than one fourth of the troops returned from the charge. The event, which was later called "Pickett's Charge," proved to be a turning point in the war. He continued to serve the Confederacy with great devotion throughout 1864 and 1865. Fort Pickett, Va., was named in his honor.

CLASS OF 1843
Ulysses S. Grant,General in Chief, Armies of the United States President of the United States, 1869-77.

CLASS OF 1840
George Henry Thomas,The "Rock of Chickamauga."

William Tecumseh Sherman,President of Louisiana State University "March to the Sea" Civil War campaign commander of the Armies of the United States.

CLASS OF 1837
John Sedgwick,Sedgwick was the Commander of the Union VI Corps during the Civil War and was killed at the Battle of Spotsylvania.

CLASS OF 1835
George G. Meade,Commander of the Army of the Potomac victorious in the Battle of Gettysburg.

CLASS OF 1832
Benjamin S. Ewell,President of the College of William & Mary 1854-88.

CLASS OF 1829
Robert E. Lee,Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy 1852-55 General in Chief, Confederate Armies president of Washington & Lee University 1865-70.

CLASS OF 1828
Jefferson Davis,Member of Congress from Mississippi 1845-461 senator from Mississippi 1847-51, 1857-61 Secretary of War from 1853-57 President of the Confederate States of America.

CLASS OF 1827
Leonidas Polk,Episcopal bishop of Louisana served as lieutenant general of the Confederate States of America honorary degree of Sacred Theology from Columbia University founded the University of the South at Sewanee in 1857.

CLASS OF 1824
Dennis Hart Mahan,Distinguished educator and writer world renowned scholar taught the science of war to numerous Army officers.

CLASS OF 1819
George Washington Whistler,Eminent civil engineer chosen by the Czar of Russia to build a railroad from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

CLASS OF 1818
Horace Webster,Founder of Hobart College, 1822 founder and president of City College of New York 1848-69.

CLASS OF 1815
Benjamin L.E. Bonneville,Explored and mapped the Great Salt Lake and the Green, Snake, Salmon and Yellowstone Rivers, venturing into the unknown American West. His explorations were memorialized.

CLASS OF 1808
Sylvanus Thayer,Preeminent educator, "Father of the Military Academy" originated technical education in America and established the educational philosophy and discipline still followed at the Military Academy.


First African American graduate of West Point - HISTORY

Henry Ossian Flipper, 1856-1940
The Colored Cadet at West Point. Autobiography of Lieut. Henry Ossian Flipper, U. S. A., First Graduate of Color from the U. S. Military Academy
New York: H. Lee & co., 1878.

Henry Ossian Flipper was the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy (West Point). Born March 21, 1856, in Thomasville, Georgia, Flipper was the son of Festus Flipper and his wife Isabelle, both of whom were enslaved. Flipper's parents' master took the family to Atlanta where, after Emancipation, Henry Flipper was educated. In 1873, following his studies at American Missionary Association schools and Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University), Flipper obtained an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. While African American cadets had been admitted to West Point previously, Flipper was the first to graduate from the Academy, receiving his degree on June 14, 1877. Finishing fiftieth out of a class of sixty-four, Flipper was given the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and assigned to the all-African American Tenth Cavalry. While serving in Texas and what is now Oklahoma, Flipper was involved in engineering and mining projects, including draining swamps, building wagon roads and installing telegraph lines. In 1880, he fought against the Apache chief Victorio and earned a commendation. In November 1881, he was posted to Fort Davis, Texas, where a superior officer accused him of embezzling Ƀ,791.77 in missing commissary funds, as well as of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Flipper maintained his innocence in this matter for the rest of his life. A court martial cleared Flipper of the embezzlement charge but found him guilty of unbecoming conduct and dismissed him from the Army on June 30, 1882.

As a civilian, Flipper remained in the West for much of his life and continued to work on engineering and surveying projects. He became fluent in Spanish and familiar with Spanish and Mexican land law, and published a number of books on legal subjects. In 1930 he returned to Atlanta, where he remained until his death on May 3, 1940. In December 1976 the Department of the Army stopped short of overturning Flipper's court martial but did grant him a posthumous honorable discharge and a military retirement. On May 3, 1977, a bust of Flipper was unveiled at West Point, and on February 19, 1999, President Bill Clinton pardoned Flipper of any wrongdoing. Much of what Flipper wrote after his dismissal from the Army has been collected in the anthology Black Frontiersman: The Memoirs of Henry O. Flipper, First Black Graduate of West Point (1997).

Flipper's autobiography, The Colored Cadet at West Point , was published in 1878, four years before the series of events that led to his dismissal from the Army took place. It is a chronological description of Flipper's family history, his birth and education, and the years he spent at West Point. Flipper painstakingly describes the course requirements, rules and regulations for each year of his West Point career. The text is therefore a useful read for anyone interested in military training and West Point history. Throughout the course of the text, Flipper also reprints contemporary newspaper and magazine articles written about his presence and performance at West Point, often commenting on their truth or falsity.

Flipper's discussion of his life before West Point is brief, but he does describe how, early in his life, each of his parents was owned by a separate master. Thus, when his father's master announces that he is moving, along with his slaves, to Atlanta, the Flipper family faces "every probability of a separation" (p. 8). However, Flipper's father prevents the family from being separated by giving his master money that he earned by working part-time as "a shoemaker and carriage-trimmer" (p. 7). Flipper's father's master uses this money to buy Flipper and his mother, and the family is able to remain together. After fleeing Atlanta briefly to avoid General William T. Sherman's March to the Sea, the Flipper family settles there in the spring of 1865. In 1873, Flipper obtains a commission to West Point.

Once at West Point, Flipper often focuses on how white professors and cadets treat him, both academically and socially. Flipper describes seeing West Point for the first time on May 20, 1873: "With my mind full of the horrors of the treatment of all former cadets of color, and the dread of inevitable ostracism, I approached tremblingly yet confidently" (p. 29). Flipper says that he and James Webster Smith, the first African American cadet at West Point, hoped "'To be let alone'" socially (p. 47). "We cared not for social recognition," he writes. "We did not expect it, nor were we disappointed in not getting it. We would not seek it. We would not obtrude ourselves upon" white students (pp. 47-48).

Flipper gives differing accounts of exactly how much social ostracism he endures at West Point. On the one hand, he admits that his was a "wretched existence . . . There was no society for me to enjoy--no friends . . . for me to visit . . . so absolute was my isolation" (pp. 106-107). On the other hand, he also notes that "I could and did have a pleasant chat every day, more or less, with 'Bentz the bugler,' the tailor, barber, commissary clerk, the policeman who scrubbed out my room and brought around the mail, the treasurer's clerk, cadets occasionally, and others" (p. 107).

Ultimately, Flipper determines that social class has a great deal to do with how individual white cadets treat him. Flipper believes that officers should be gentlemen, and that race-based cruelty is beneath gentlemen: "the majority of the corps . . . are gentlemen themselves, and treat others as it becomes gentlemen to do. They do not associate, nor do they speak other than officially, except in a few cases. They are perhaps as much prejudiced as the others, but prejudice does not prevent all from being gentlemen" (p. 121). In contrast, "there are some [other cadets] from the very lowest classes of our population" whose "conduct must be in keeping with their breeding" (p. 121). What saddens Flipper the most is how the behavior of the latter class of cadets often influences the behavior of the former.

The Colored Cadet closes by describing Flipper's graduation from West Point and its aftermath. Looking back over his time at the Academy, Flipper describes his "experimental life . . . at West Point" as "a sort of bittersweet experience" consisting of "years of patient endurance and hard and persistent work, interspersed with bright oases of happiness . . . as well as weary barren wastes of loneliness" (p. 238). Still, Flipper's last words in the narrative praise West Point: "All I could say of the professors and officers at the Academy would be unqualifiedly in their favor" (p. 322).


West Point gets 1st black superintendent in 216-year history

/>Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, a 1983 U.S. Military Academy graduate, will become the first black officer to command West Point in its 216-year history, academy officials announced Friday. (U.S. Military Academy via AP)

WEST POINT, N.Y. — Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, a 1983 U.S. Military Academy graduate who has held high-ranking Army posts in Europe and Asia, will become the first black officer to command West Point in its 216-year history, academy officials announced Friday.

Williams will assume command as the academy’s 60th superintendent during a ceremony Monday morning in West Point’s Jefferson Hall, school officials said.

The native of Alexandria, Virginia, has served as the deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Army in Europe and the deputy commanding general for support for the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea. Most recently Williams was commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command, based in Turkey.

After 43 years in the Army, West Point’s beloved Supe Daddy retires

Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr., the 59th superintendent in West Point history, is retiring after 43 years in the Army and five years as superintendent.

West Point, founded in 1802 along the west bank of the Hudson River 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of New York City, didn’t graduate its first black cadet until the Reconstruction era in 1877. No black cadet had graduated in the 20th century when Benjamin O. Davis Jr. arrived in there in 1932.

Davis ate alone, roomed alone and was shunned by fellow cadets because he was black. After graduating in 1936, he went on to command the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II and retired as an Air Force general in 1970. West Point recently named its newest cadet barracks for Davis.

The announcement of Williams’ appointment comes less than a year after an African-American cadet and Rhodes Scholar was selected to take the top position in West Point’s cadet chain of command. Simone Askew, of Fairfax, Virginia, was selected first captain of the Corps of Cadets last summer and graduated in May.

Groundbreaking West Point grad recognized as a top 10 College Woman of the Year

The first African-American woman to hold the position of First Captain of the Corps of Cadets at West Point was named one of Glamour Magazine's Top 10 College Women of the year.

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On This Day: First African American graduate of West Point

Henry Ossian Flipper, born into slavery in Thomasville, Georgia, in 1856, becomes the first African American cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York on June 14, 1877.

The United States Military Academy—the first military school in America—was founded by Congress in 1802 for the purpose of educating and training young men in the theory and practice of military science. Established at West Point, New York, the U.S. Military Academy is often simply known as West Point.

In 1870, the first African American cadet, James Webster Smith, was admitted to West Point but never reached the graduation ceremonies. It was not until 1877 that Henry Ossian Flipper became the first black cadet to graduate.

Flipper was born to enslaved parents but came of age in Atlanta during Reconstruction. He was educated at American Missionary Association schools and Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). In 1873, he was appointed to West Point. As he later wrote in his 1878 autobiography, The Colored Cadet at West Point, he was socially ostracized by white peers and professors during his four years there.

After graduation, Flipper was appointed to serve as second lieutenant in the all-African American 10th Cavalry and stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. The Ninth and 10th Cavalry were regiments of black enlisted men who became known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

While at Fort Sill, Flipper negotiated with local Native American tribes and supervised several engineering projects, including the building of roads and telegraph lines. A drainage system he designed became known as “Flipper’s Ditch” and is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

In 1881, he was accused of stealing over $3,000 in commissary funds and relieved of duty. Though a court-martial found him not guilty of embezzlement, he was dishonorably discharged for “unbecoming conduct” in 1882.

Flipper went on to a distinguished career as a civilian engineer and surveyor, and later served in Washington, D.C. as a consultant on Mexican relations. Flipper maintained his innocence throughout his later years and fought to clear his name. He died on May 3, 1940, in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1976, the Army upgraded his discharge to honorable. And in 1999, President Bill Clinton granted Flipper a posthumous pardon, saying, “Henry Flipper did all his country asked him to do.”


Image Courtesy of Lat34North. Accessed via Waymarking.com

This week’s #MarkerMonday recognizes Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Flipper was born into slavery on March 21, 1856, in Thomasville, Georgia. After the Civil War, he was educated by the American Missionary Association and attended Atlanta University (later Clark Atlanta University) for a year. In 1873, Flipper became the fifth African American to receive a West Point appointment. Unlike the other African-American cadets, he managed to tolerate the hostile environment created by the white cadets in his class, and graduated from West Point in 1877. As an officer, Flipper served with the Buffalo Soldiers of the Tenth Cavalry in Texas.

Portrait of Henry Ossian Flipper. Public Domain. Accessed via Wikimedia

While stationed in Fort Davis in 1881, Flipper was framed by white officers and charged with embezzlement. At his court martial he was found not guilty of embezzlement, however, he was found guilty of “conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman” and was dishonorably discharged from the Army. After leaving the Army, Flipper pursued a career in business and government service, including working as a civil and mining engineer, surveyor, cartographer, and a special agent for the US government on southwestern land claims. From 1901-1912, he worked in Mexico as a mining engineer, and upon his return to the US, Flipper supplied information about Mexican internal affairs to the Senate during the Mexican Revolution. In 1916, Flipper wrote his memoirs, to be published posthumously, Negro Frontiersman: The Western Memoirs of Henry O. Flipper. Flipper moved to Venezuela in 1923, to work as an engineer in the country’s petroleum industry, and retired to Atlanta in 1931. Henry O. Flipper died of a heart attack in 1940. After his death, Flipper’s family applied to the Army Board for the Correction of Military Action for Flipper’s court martial conviction to be over turned. He was posthumously awarded an honorable discharge in 1976, and a bust of him was placed at West Point in 1978. Flipper received a full pardon from President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Top Image of Buffalo Soldiers courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-11406.


Colonel Charles Young

"Yours for Race and Country, Charles Young. 22 Feby., 1919."

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

As a soldier, diplomat, and civil rights leader, Charles Young overcame stifling inequality to become a leading figure in the years after the Civil War when the United States emerged as a world power. His work ethic, academic leadership, and devotion to duty provided a strong base for his achievements in the face of racism and oppression. His long and distinguished career as a commissioned officer in the United States Army made him a popular figure of his time and a role model for generations of new leaders.

View the short, ten minute park introductory film that chronicles the life of Colonel Charles Young.

Click on a quick link below to learn more about specific periods of Charles Young's life or scroll down to read through the entire chronology:

Portrait of Charles Young as a child

Courtesy of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, Wilberforce, Ohio

Early Life

Young was born to enslaved parents, Gabriel & Arminta Young, on March 12 th , 1864 in May's Lick, Kentucky. That same year his father escaped enslavement and in February 1865 joined the 5th Regiment, U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery. Sometime after Gabriel's enlistment, young Charles and his parents relocated from Kentucky to across the river in Ripley, Ohio, seeking a new life in the river town which just happened to be the center of abolitionism. Charles flourished in Ripley in academics, foreign languages and in music. His public education was supplemented with generous amounts of help from his mother who was educated while she was a slave, a rarity for any slave during those times. At age 17 he graduated with academic honors from the integrated high school in 1881. After high school, Young taught at the African-American elementary school in Ripley for two years. He would continue to chase his thirst for knowledge and education while under the guidance and mentoring of renowned African-American abolitionist John Parker.

Portrait of Cadet Charles Young by Pach Brothers, NY

Courtesy of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, Wilberforce, Ohio

West Point

In 1883, Charles Young's father encouraged him to take the entrance examination to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Young scored the second highest on the exam and was not selected to the Academy that year. When the candidate ahead of him dropped out of West Point, Young would receive his opportunity the following year. He entered West Point on June 10, 1884 to become only the ninth African American to attend the Academy and only the third to graduate. The other two African-American graduates, Henry Ossian Flipper (1877) & John Hanks Alexander (1887), would earn their commissions but would only see short careers in the Army. Flipper would be drummed out of the Army over controversial and questionable charges of ". conduct unbecoming an officer. " In the mid-1990's, his descendants began a campaign to restore his name and clear his legacy of these charges. On February 19, 1999, President William Jefferson Clinton pardoned Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper of those charges. Lieutenant John Hanks Alexander would be a classmate of Charles Young at West Point and they would serve together at Ft. Duquesne, Utah for a few years before Alexander would leave to become a professor at Wilberforce University in Ohio. Young would be dispatched to Wilberforce shortly after Anderson died of a sudden heart condition in 1894.

As a cadet, Young encountered the same racial insults and social isolation from instructors and other cadets on a daily basis as those before him. Despite these indignities, he would persevere. After a dreadful first academic year, Young was faced with repeating his first year, or Plebe year, in order to continue his education. He would do so and did well over the next four academic years. Faced with a failing grade in an engineering class during his last semester, Young received tutoring from his instructor and was allowed to re-take the exam. This time, Young passed and was awarded his diploma and commission in the summer of 1889.

Courtesy of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, Wilberforce, Ohio

Early Millitary Career

Because military leaders would not allow an African-American officer to command white troops, the Adjutant General's Office waited three months after Young's West Point graduation in 1889 before assigning the newly-commissioned 2nd Lieutenant to the 9th Cavalry at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. After a year, marked by isolation and hostility, Young transferred to Fort Duchesne, Utah, where the command and fellow officers proved more welcoming. Here, Young mentored Sergeant Major Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. who later became the first African American to attain the rank of General.

Between 1889 and 1907 Young served in the 9th Cavalry at western posts and rose to the rank of captain. He also taught military science, served as a military attaché, and fought with distinction in the Phillipine-American War, winning the praise of his commanders for his troops' courage and professionalism in and out of combat.

2nd Lieutenant Charles Young, second from left, in front of cadet formation at Wilberforce University.

Photo courtesy of National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center

Wilberforce, Ohio

In the fall of 1894, Charles Young received a detached service assignment that wound up sending him to Wilberforce, Ohio. Young was to take over the planning and eventual teaching of the new Military Sciences & Tactics courses at Wilberforce University. The original choice to fill this teaching position, Lieutenant John Hanks Alexander, died suddenly in Springfield, Ohio on March 26th and Lieutenant Young was dispatched to take up for Alexander. Lieutenants Alexander and Young had roomed together for a few years while at the West Point Military Academy and they also served at Fort Duchesne, Utah together for some time, so Young was no stranger to Alexander. Eventually, Lieutenant Young would build the program to just over 100 cadets by the 1898 class. Additionally, Young also helped establish the Wilberforce University marching band. Music played an integral part of Young's life, so it was no wonder that he enthusiastically helped to create the university marching band since he had helped to teach and direct the band at his previous duty station in Fort Duchense. Lieutenant Young remained at Wilberforce as a professor until early 1898 when the war with Spain had begun with the infamous sinking of the battleship U.S.S. Maine in Cuba. While Young did not re-join his troopers of the 9th Cavalry, he did wind up being appointed as Major and commander of the Ninth Ohio Battalion, U.S. Volunteers.

Lieutenant Charles Young became one of the distinguished professors at the university around the turn of the century, which included W.E.B. DuBois who would become a close life-long friend of Charles Young. By April of 1898, Young would be on the move away from Wilberforce as he mustered up and trained men for potential combat action in Cuba. However, Young had established himself at the university and in the city of Wilberforce and he frequently returned between his duty stations & assignments to visit and to purchase properties that he would call "home" for the rest of his life.

Portrait of Charles Young prior to his departure for Sequoia National Park in 1903

1 st African-American National Park Superintendent

In the summer of 1903, Captain Charles Young would become the first African-American national park Superintendent when he and his troops were tasked to manage and maintain Sequoia National Park in northern California. Because the U.S. Army was tasked with protecting the national parks in these early years, the Army would send troops to manage, maintain and patrol them. Young and his troopers arrived in Sequoia National Park in the summer of 1903 and proceeded to construct roads and trails that other troops were unable to do in the years before them. As the leader of his troops, Young would inherit the title of Acting Superintendent of Sequoia National Park that year. He incorporated the local townsfolk to assist his troop's efforts and he and his troops' accomplishments from their summer of hard work were lauded by many throughout the area.

Learn more about Charles Young's short, but profound, tenure as a national park Superintendent by visiting the Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park website.

Major Charles Young overseeing troops

Photo courtesy U.S. National Archives

Latter Military Career

In 1904 Captain Young became the first Military Attaché to Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola. Young joined 23 other officers (the only African American among them) serving in these diplomatic posts in the Theodore Roosevelt administration. He won President Roosevelt's praise through an introduction Roosevelt wrote for his monograph on the people and customs of Hispaniola. Young's experiences in foreign service and as a commander in the Philippines formed the basis of his book, The Military Morale of Nations and Races (1911).

From 1912 to 1916, he served as the military attaché to Liberia, helping to train the Liberian Frontier Force. After returning from Liberia, he then served as a squadron commander during the Punitive Expedition in Mexico against Pancho Villa. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Agua Caliente, leading his men to the aid of a cavalry unit that had been ambushed. During the same period, Young won additional promotions, to major in 1912, and to lieutenant colonel in 1916.

Funeral of Colonel Charles Young at Arlington Memorial Amphitheater, Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia

Courtesy of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, Wilberforce, Ohio

A Long & Distinguished Military Career

In July 1917, Young was medically retired and promoted to colonel in recognition of his distinguished Army service. Young and his supporters asked for reconsideration of his retirement. To demonstrate his fitness to serve, Young, then 54, made a historic 500-mile horseback ride from Wilberforce, Ohio, to Washington, D.C. Afterwards, the Secretary of War gave Young an informal hearing, but did not reverse the decision.

Though medically retired, Young was retained on a list of active duty officers. During World War I, the War Department sent him back to Ohio to help muster and train African-American recruits for the war. Days before the November 11 th , 1918 armistice, Young was assigned to Camp Grant (Illinois) to train black servicemen. Shortly thereafter, at the request of the State Department, Colonel Young was sent once more to serve as military attaché to Liberia, arriving in Monrovia, February 1920. While on a visit to Nigeria in late 1921 he became gravely ill and died at the British hospital in Lagos on January 8 th , 1922. Due to British law, Young's body was buried in Lagos, Nigeria for one year before it could be repatriated to the United States for final interment.


A Tuskegee hero and the oldest living Black West Point grad reflect on the US military and its first Black defense secretary

Two celebrated Black veterans who shattered the military's color line heralded the arrival of the country's first African-American defense secretary as an exceptionally qualified officer and a sign of how far the services have progressed from the days of discrimination and segregation they once faced.

"One of the things that's unique about General [Lloyd] Austin, now Secretary Austin, is that he has commanded troops in combat at great levels during his generalship," said retired Army Col. Clifford Worthy, one of the first Black West Point graduates after the desegregation of the military.

"He's had such a distinguished career spent altogether."

Worthy, who will be 93 years old in March, was one of the two Black leaders who told Insider it was "amazing" how much racial attitudes have changed in the US military. Worthy noted that "considering the state of affairs we're in in this country," he had "a sense of security" given Austin's new role.

"You know, older I get, the more comforting it is to know that we have a secretary of defense who can say 'I've been there, I've done that,'" Worthy said.

Worthy began his military career as a cadet in West Point in 1949, one year after President Harry Truman signed an executive order to desegregate the armed forces. The executive order, which was signed on the same day as a separate order to desegregate the federal workplace, mandated "that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin."

"Prior to that time, there were Black units and then there were white units," Worthy said. "Everything changed in 1948."

"Black young men did not dream of attending West Point when I was growing up," Worthy wrote in his memoir, "The Black Knight: An African-American Family's Journey from West Point — a Life of Duty, Honor and Country." "That was a privileged preserve of white men whose families were among the elite or had somehow caught the attention of US congressmen. Anyone who took the time to research the history of black cadets would have been scared away."

It was through happenstance in 1946 that he encountered a former cadet who encouraged him to apply for a recommendation letter from a congressional lawmaker, a prerequisite to enroll in a US military academy.

"I was visibly startled by the suggestion," Worthy recounted of the cadet's suggestion. "This was a preposterous idea!"

The former cadet persisted, arguing that "the only thing you have to risk is the cost of a three-cent postage stamp."

Worthy eventually relented and mailed a letter to then-Democratic Rep. John Dingell Sr. of Michigan, who approved the recommendation. His mother, who did not know of Worthy's application until the acceptance letter arrived in the mail, was not accustomed to military academies and viewed them as "out there someplace in the 'for whites only' world, like Hollywood or major league baseball," Worthy wrote in the memoir.

It was these memories of "how things had progressed over the years" that flowed through his mind after hearing of Austin's confirmation, Worthy said to Insider. He recalled the story of former US Army Lt. Henry Flipper, the first Black graduate of West Point in 1877, who was ostracized from his colleagues and staff members throughout his career.

Flipper, who was born into slavery in Thomasville, Georgia, shares the same hometown as Defense Secretary Austin, also a West Point graduate. The current West Point superintendent, US Army Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, is the first Black soldier to lead the 218-year-old institution.

"To think about how things could change since Flipper, and how now things have changed to the point we have a black secretary of defense …," Worthy recounted, lost in thought.

Retired Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, one of the remaining living members of the fabled Tuskegee Airmen, the all-Black service members to pilot fighters and bombers in World War II, also took note of the milestone.

"Back then, with the attitudes and so on, I wouldn't have expected it to happen," McGee told Insider. "It could've happened a long time ago, probably. But the general attitudes by the majority leadership didn't. It just wasn't happening. You couldn't say it wasn't possible."

McGee, who is 101 years old, said it was "just amazing how the attitudes in the military" have changed since 1925, back when the Army War College released a racist study that claimed Black troops were inferior to whites — a claim that McGee and other Black troops would prove wrong.

"Fortunately there were those leaders who believed in the opportunity [for us]," McGee said to Insider.

Although Austin's confirmation is considered a ground-breaking step in improving race relations, the Defense Department continues to face challenges that embroil the military in controversy.

Following the social unrest in the wake of the George Floyd killing, the military was thrust into the political spotlight — not only in its response in quelling the nationwide protests, but also due to allegations that it remains complacent in rooting out domestic terrorism and other far-right movements within its own ranks.

This reckoning culminated in the violent storming of the US Capitol in January, where 5 people, including a police office, died. Several of the rioters charged by prosecutors have since been found to have ties to the armed forces. Although military leaders contend that racist and right-wing extremist views are held only by a small minority of its troops, lawmakers have demanded the Defense Department to address the issue.

"I will fight hard to stamp out sexual assault, to rid our ranks of racists and extremists, and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity," Austin said during a Senate confirmation hearing in January. "The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies. But we can't do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks."

One example of the Defense Department's actions to address the social unrest was to rename military bases that honor the namesake of Confederate-era leaders. The National Defense Authorization Act, which became law after Congress overrode President Donald Trump veto against it, includes a provision to rename bases and other military structures within three years.

For Clifford Worthy, the change is long overdue.

"The horrors of that Civil War and the long term impact on America since that time — we have not totally recovered from that," Worthy said. "And it's kind of a heart-rending … Some Confederate general who's being honored. Why is he there?"

Charles McGee cautioned that any changes should be thoroughly investigated and ought to take into account whether it could have an adverse affect.

"It depends on how we use the change," McGee said. "Because there probably will be those still around that won't like the name picked for the change. So what has been accomplished?"

"I think we're a long way from knowing whether the step is a good one … for the country," McGee added. "There's a lot that we have to look at and be careful [of]… does it serve all of us? Does it make it a better country?"