Flip Fires Off – Henry Flipper

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He arose with martial mien, and his left hand resting on his sabre hilt. He said:

“Some weeks ago he had been called upon at a reception in New York to make a speech, but he had reminded the gentleman who called upon him that he had been taught to be a soldier and not an orator. While upon this occasion he still maintained that lie was not an orator, yet he would tell them something of his career at West Point. He referred to his colored predecessors in the Academy and their fates, particularly of Smith, whose last year there was his (F. s) first. During that year, on Smith s account, he had received his worst treatment at the Academy. Prejudice against us was strong there at that time. During his first encampment he had a better time than almost any man in his class. In 1874 Smith left, and a rumor prevailed that he (F ) was afraid to stay and was going to resign. Colonel Upton, the commandant, sent for him to his house, told him not to do so, but to stick it out. Of course he had no intention of resigning, and he followed this superfluous advice. So far as the cadets were concerned they always treated me fairly, would speak to me, and some came to my room and talked with me, but the only thing they did that was wrong, perhaps, was that they would not associate with me openly. The officers always treated me as well as they did any other cadet. All these reports about my bad treatment there, especially in Southern newspapers, are absolutely false.

“I will read and comment upon some of these articles. In The Constitution of last Saturday it said I had the hardest four years of any cadet who ever passed through the Academy. That is in some respects true, but not wholly so. Speaking of Ben Butler s son, I am proud to say that among the three hundred cadets I hadn’t a better friend than the son of the Massachusetts statesman. (Applause.) As to Mr Bigelow s son, mentioned here, I know him well, and his whole family his father, the distinguished ex Secretary of State, his mother and his two sisters, and have met them at their home. Mrs. Bigelow, recognizing my position, and thinking to assure my feelings, sent me a nice box of fruit with her compliments.

“He then commented on articles from Beecher s Christian Union, the New York Tribune, Harper s Weekly, and the New York Telegram, characterizing many of their statements about himself as false.

Social Equality In The Army

“The article last named was about social equality in the army. Flipper said that he was cordially met by the army officers in Chattanooga. In return he paid his respects to the commandant and was introduced and shown through the barracks. He was treated with every courtesy.

“How it is here you have all seen as I walked about the city. I have walked with the officers of the garrison here several times today, even up and down Whitehall Street, and one of them invited me into Schumann s drug store, and had a glass of soda together. I know it is not a usual thing to sell to colored people, but we got it. (Laughter and applause.) And tonight as Mr. J. O. Wimbish and myself were coming to the hall, we met with one of the officers at the corner, and went into Schumann s again. We called for soda water, and got it again! (Applause.) And I called at the barracks, through military courtesy, and paid my respects to the commandant. I understand that the officers there have had my case under consideration, and have unanimously agreed that I am a graduate of the national Academy, and hold a commission similar to their own, and am entitled to the same courtesy as any other officer. I have been invited to visit them at their quarters tomorrow. These things show you something of social equality in the army, and when this happens with officers who have lived in the South, and had opportunity to be tainted with Southern feeling, I expect still less trouble from this source when I reach my regiment and among officers who have not lived in the South and had occasion to be tainted in this way. The gentlemen of the army are generally better educated than the people of the South.

“He spoke of his graduation and of the applause with which he was greeted. He closed by thanking his audience.

Flourishing His Flipper

“Then Flipper was escorted upon the floor, and the announcement was made that all who desired could now be introduced to the youth.

“The first man to receive this distinguished honor was George Thomas, the Assistant United States Attorney. He was followed closely by several Northern school marms and teachers, and a host of the colored people. “After shaking, the crowd took ice cream and cake and adjourned. Sic transit!”

I pass over the preceding article with the silent contempt it deserves. Some of the papers commented upon it. I give two such articles:

(From the Atlanta (Ga.) Republican.)

“The Atlanta Constitution, true to principle, comes out in a slanderous attack upon Lieutenant Flipper. In its issue of Tuesday, July 10th, it calls him a fraud. Would to heaven we had ten thousand such frauds in Georgia for the good of the State and progress in general!

“It takes exception, too, to the manner in which the colored lieutenant appeared at the reception given by the colored people in his honor. He was lavishly dressed in full regimentals, it says, with gold cord. He sat upon the stage with his massive and ponderous sword, looking like Wellington or Grant in war council. He made remarks uncalled for and distasteful. Oh dear! Oh!

“Now we (that is I, this individual, Mr. Editor, for I would not assume your grand editorial pronoun) should like to know how the Constitution would have the young officer dress. Surely it was entirely proper and becoming that he should appear in full regimental cap, coat, boots, spurs, and all, full fledged, just as he issued forth from West Point.

“In the first place it was a novel sight for the colored people. Surely the Constitution would not rob us of the privilege and pleasure of seeing in full military costume the first and only one of our race who has been permitted to pass through West Point with honor.

“In regard to the ostentatious manner in which the lieutenant conducted himself on that evening, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the general comment of the evening by both black and white was on the modesty of his bearing.

“It is not strange, however, that the Constitution, whose judgment and sense of right and justice have been perverted through years of persistent sinning, should see things in a different light.

“The uncalled for and distasteful remarks were doubtless those made in regard to the fact that Northern people coming into contact with Southern prejudice are tainted by it, and that West Pointers are generally better educated than the Southern people. Of course this would stir up the wrath of the Constitution; for what could be more hateful in its sight than truth?

“Justitia.”

(From the New York World.)

Lieutenant Flipper would have shown better sense if he had not made any speech at Atlanta. But if he was to make any speech at all upon the subject of his treatment at West Point, it could scarcely be expected that he should make one more modest, manly and sensible than that which is reported in our news columns.”

Here are two other articles of the abusive order from the Southern press:

(From the Griffin (Ga.) News.)

“J. C. Freeman, the only white man in Georgia that ever disgraced the military of the United States, was in the city yesterday. It will be remembered that this individual at one time misrepresented this district in Congress, and during that time he appointed one Negro by color, and Flipper by name, to West Point. But then, nevertheless, the Negro is as good as he is, and better too, and we have no doubt but what Freeman thinks he did a big thing, but the good people of the State think different. This notice is not paid for.”

(From the Warrenton (Ga.) Clipper.)

“The following is the way the Southerners solidify their section that is, it is one way the other, being the masked Kuklux. What it says, however, about the North, is just about so:

“Lieutenant Flipper, the colored cadet, is in Macon, and the darkies there think him a bigger man that General Grant. They ll want him to be President after awhile, and the Northern people will then be the first to say no. ”

The article of social equality referred to was clipped from the New York Evening Telegram. It is as follows:

Negro Equality In The Army

“There is no danger of Negro equality, oh no! But it will be so delightful for the white soldier to be commanded to pace the greensward before the tent of Lieutenant Flipper, the Negro graduate of West Point, and the white soldier will probably indulge in a strange train of thought while doing it. And when promotion comes, and the Negro becomes Majah Flippah, or Colonel Flippah, the prospects of the white captains and lieutenants will be so cheerful, particularly if they have families and are stationed at some post in the far West, where any neglect in the social courtesies toward their superior officer would probably go hard with them and their families.”

To go back to the article “Flying Around Flipper,” I want to say the white people of Georgia can claim no credit for any part of my education. The Storrs school was not a public school at the time I went to school there. It did not become such until I went to West Point. The Atlanta University receives $8000 per annum From the State of Georgia in lieu of the share of the agricultural land scrip due to the colored people for educational purposes. Efforts have been made to take even this from the university, but all have been failures.

(From the Macon (Ga.) Telegram and Messenger.)

Battalion Parade.
“On Monday evening the colored companies of the city had a battalion parade and review.

“The three companies, viz., the Lincoln Guards, the Bibb County Blues, and the Central City Light Infantry, formed on Fourth Street, and to martial music marched up Mulberry to First, down First to Walnut, up Walnut to Spring Street, and there formed for dress parade and inspection.

“On the right of the line were the Light Infantry under Captain W. H. DeLyons. The Blues bore the colors, and were commanded by Spencer Moses, Captain, and the Guards supported the extreme left. T. N. M. Sellers, Captain of the Lincoln Guards, acted as major. After some preliminary movements the troops were inspected by Lieutenant Flipper, the colored graduate of West Point. The troops then marched around the inspecting officer.

“The line was again formed, and the major addressed Lieutenant Flipper in a short speech, in which was expressed gratitude to the government and thanks to the inspecting officer.

“Lieutenant Flipper replied in a few very sensible and appropriate remarks: That he wished all success, honor, and thanks to the companies for their kindness and courtesy. Hoped they would all make soldiers and tight for their country. That he was a soldier rather than a speaker. That he had tried to do his duty at West Point, and that he expected to continue to try to do his duty, and again thanking you for your hospitality, kindness, and attention to myself, I renew my wish for your future success.

“After the speaking there was a general hand shaking. The entire parade was very creditable indeed, showing considerable proficiency in the tactics, and was witnessed by a large crowd of about twelve hundred of whites and blacks.

“This is the first review ever held by the colored troops in the city of Macon. About eighty men rank and file were out. The colors used was the United States flag. The uniforms were tasty and well gotten up.”

There was a very scurrilous article in one of the Charleston (S.C.) papers. I have not been able to get it. I am informed that after commenting on my graduation, assignment, etc., it indulged in much speculation as to my future. It told how I would live, be treated, etc., how I would marry, beget “little Flippers,” and rear them up to “don the army blue,” and even went far enough to predict their career. It was a dirty piece of literature, and I am not very sorry I couldn’t obtain it.

Successful Colored Young Men

(From the Atlanta (Ga.) Republican.)

“At length a colored youth has overcome the difficulties that surrounded him as a student at the West Point Military Academy, and has graduated, with the respect of his white associates who were at first very much opposed to him. Mr. Flipper, the successful young man is a Georgia boy, and was appointed a cadet to West Point from the Fifth Congressional District the Atlanta District by Congressman Freeman, we believe. He was raised by Rev. Frank Quarles, of this city, and is regarded by him almost as a son.

“John F. Quarles, Esq., the son of Rev. Frank Quarles, is spending a few days with his father. Mr. J. F. Quarles was educated in Pennsylvania since the war, and returned to Georgia in 1870. He read law and was admitted to the Augusta bar after a careful examination before three of the ablest lawyers at that bar, which is noted for its talent. He passed a very creditable examination, and is, we believe, the only colored man who has been admitted to the Georgia bar. He was soon after appointed consul to Port Mahon, in the Mediterranean Sea, and served with credit until he was legislated of office by the Democratic Congress. President Hayes recently appointed him consul to Malaga, Spain.

“Rev. Mr. Quarles is justly proud of two such boys.”

Here, too, is a venerable colored man claiming the honor of having raised me. Why, I never was away from my mother and father ten consecutive hours in my life until I went to West Point. It is possible, nay, very probable, that he jumped me on his knee, or boxed me soundly for some of my childish pranks, but as to raising me, that honor is my mother s, not his.

Before leaving West Point the following communications were sent me from the head quarters of the Liberia Exodus Association, 10 Mary Street, Charleston S.C. I replied in very courteous terms that I was opposed to the whole scheme, and declined to have any thing to do with it. I was in Charleston later in the year, and while there I was besieged by some of the officers of the association, who had not yet despaired of making me “Generalissimo of Liberia s Army,” as one of them expressed himself. Wearied of their importunities, and having no sympathy with the movement, I published the following in the Charleston News and Courier:

Flipper On Liberia

“Lieutenant Flipper, of the Tenth United States Cavalry, the newly fledged colored West Pointer, has something to say on the question of the Liberian Exodus, which will be interesting to the people of his race. The lieutenant, by his creditable career as a cadet at the Military Academy, has certainly earned the right to be heard by the colored population with at least as much respect and attention as has been given to the very best of the self constituted apostles of the Exodus. Here is his letter:

To the Editor of The News and Courier:

“Sir: A rumor has come to me from various sources, to the effect that I have promised to resign my commission in the army after serving the two years required by law, and to then accept another as General Commander-in-Chief of the Liberian Army.

“It has also come to my notice that many, particularly in the counties adjoining Georgia, are being persuaded, and intend going to Liberia because I have made this promise.

“I shall consider it no small favor if you will state that there is no law requiring me to serve two years, that I never authorized any such statement as here made, that I have no sympathy whatever for the “Liberian Exodus” movement, that I give it neither countenance nor support, but will oppose it whenever I feel that the occasion requires it. I am not at all disposed to flee from one shadow to grasp at another from the supposed error of Hayes s Southern policy to the prospective glory of commanding Liberia s army.

“Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

“Henry O. Flipper,
” Second Lieutenant Tenth U. S. Cavalry.
“Charleston, S.C., October 19, 1877. “

The Letters From Charleston.

Rooms Of The Liberian African Association,
10 Mary Street, Charleston, S.C.,
June 22, 1877.

To Henry O. Flipper, Esq.,
U. S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.:

Dear Friend And Brother: Your future, as foreshadowed by the press of this country, looks dismal enough. We have conned its remarks with mingled feelings of sympathy and exultation. Exultation! because we believe fate has something higher and better in store for you than they or you ever dreamed. Inclosed please find copy of a letter to the Honorable the Secretary of State. We have not yet received a reply. Also, inclosed, a number of the Missionary Record containing the call referred to. We have mentioned you in our note to His Excellency Anthony Gardner, President of Liberia. Please communicate with us and say if this letter and inclosures do not open up a bright vista in the future to your imagination and reasonable aspirations? We picture to ourselves our efforts to obtain a line of steamers crowned with success; and behold you as commander-in-chief organizing and marshalling Liberia s military forces in the interests of humanity at large, and the especial development of a grand African nationality that shall command the respect of the nations:

So Afric shall resume her seat in the
Hall of Nations vast;
And strike upon her restrung lyre
The requiem of the past:
And sing a song of thanks to God,
For his great mercy shown,
In leading, with an outstretched arm,
The benighted wanderer home. Selah!

Provide yourself at once with maps, etc., master the chorography of Africa in general, and the topography of Liberia in particular, that is to say, the whole range of the Kong mountains, including its eastern slope on to the Niger, our natural boundary! for the next thirty years! after that, onward! Cultivate especially the artillery branch of the service; this is the arm with which we can most surely overawe all thought of opposition among the native tribes; whilst military engineering will dot out settlements with forts, against which, they will see, twould be madness to hurl themselves. We desire to absorb and cultivate them. The great obstacle to this is their refusal to have their girls educated. This results from their institution of polygamy. Slavery is the same the world over it demands the utter ignorance of its victims. We must compel their enlightenment. Have we not said enough? Does not your intelligence grasp, and your ambition spring to the great work? Let us hear from you. You can be a great power in assisting to carry out our Exodus. If you desire we will elect you a member of our council and keep you advised of our proceedings. We forward you by this mail some of our numbers and the Charleston News of the 20th. See the article on yourself, and let it nerve you to thoughts and deeds of greatness. Let us know something about Baker and McClennan. Are they at Annapolis? Cadets? (We will require a navy as well as an army.) Also something about yourself. What part of the State are you from? Hon. R. H. Cain is not here, or probably he could inform us.

Affectionately yours. By our President,
B. F. PORTER, Pastor of Morris Brown Chapel.

GEO. CURTIS, Corresponding Secretary.

P. S. We have received a reply from the Secretary of State very courteous in its tone but “regrets” to say that he has “no special means of forming an opinion upon the subject. The measure referred to would require an Act of Congress, in respect to whose future proceedings it would not be prudent to venture a prediction.”

The answer is all we expected. We have made ourselves known to, and are recognized by, the Executive; our next step is to address Senators Morton and Blaine Hon. R. H. Cain will see to it, that the question is pushed in the House. G.C.

Copy.


 

Rooms Of The Liberia Exodus Association,
10 Mary Street, Charleston, S.C.
June 14, 1877.

Hon. Wm. J. Evarts,
Secretary of State, Washington, D.C.:

Sir: Inclosed please find a call on our people to prepare to organize for an exodus to Liberia.

We think it explains itself, but any further explanation called for we will gladly supply.

In the event of a sufficient response to our call, please inform us if there is any probability of our government placing one or more steamers on the route between here, or Port Royal, and Liberia for our transportation; and if so, then the charge for passage; and if, to those unable to pay ready money, time will be given, and the payment received in produce?

Tens of thousands are now eager to go from this State alone, but we want a complete exodus, if possible, from the whole United States; thus leaving you a homogeneous people, opening up an immense market for your products, giving a much required impetus to your trade, commerce, and manufactures; and for ourselves attaining a position where, removed from under the shade of a “superior race,” we will have full opportunity for developing whatever capacity of soul growth our Creator has endowed us with.

That Africa will be developed, and chiefly through the instrumentality of its five millions of descendants in America, is certain. Now the question is, who shall have the chief handling and consequent benefit of this grand instrument, next to itself, of course, for we are treating of a sentient instrumentality. We beseech you that you do not send us, Columbus like, from court to court offering the development of a new world to incredulous ears. We are asking the President of Liberia, the American Colonization Society, and all friends of the measure, for their aid, advice, and co-operation.

We desire to carry our first shipment of emigrants not later than September or October proximo.

We have the honor to be, Sir, in all respect and loyalty, yours to command.

The Council of the L. E. A. By our President,
B. F. Porter, Pastor Morris Brown A.M.E. Church.
Geo, Curtis, Corresponding Secretary.



MLA Source Citation:

Flipper, Henry Ossian. The Colored Cadet at West Point: Autobiography of Lieut. Henry Ossian Flipper, first graduate of color from the U. S. Military Academy. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 1 November 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/black-genealogy/flip-fires-off-henry-flipper.htm - Last updated on Mar 7th, 2013


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