Henry Ossian Flipper became the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in 1873. He also served as the first African-American commissioned officer in the regular U.S. Army. Born enslaved in Georgia, Flipper rose to the rank of lieutenant in the Army while facing racial prejudice. His commanding officer accused him of embezzling funds in 1881, and although he was found not guilty, he was nonetheless dishonorably discharged.
Lieutenant Flipper sought to clear his name and to be reinstated in the Army while working as a civil engineer in the Southwest. In 1898, H.R. 9849, a bill to restore his rank, was brought before Congress. Flipper asked Chairman John A.T. Hull of the Military Affairs Committee to support the bill in this letter: “I ask only that justice which every American citizen has the right to ask and which Congress alone has the power to grant.” Despite his efforts, the bill was tabled. Although Lieutenant Flipper died in 1940, the Army posthumously granted him an honorable discharge in 1976. In 1999, he was pardoned by President William Jefferson Clinton.