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*On this date in 1999 President Bill Clinton posthumously pardoned Second Lieutenant Henry Ossian Flipper.
The event came 59 years after his death and 117 years after the young lieutenant had been dismissed from the United States Army. A short statement penned by President Chester Arthur in June of 1882, upholding the court-martial sentence of dismissal, had signaled the end to his military career.
In the fall of 1881, Lieutenant Flipper was court-martialed for embezzlement of commissary funds in violation of the 60th Article of War, and for “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman” under Article 61. Flipper pleaded not guilty to both charges.
Although found not guilty of embezzlement, he was convicted of the second charge for making a false statement, for signing financial records he knew to be incorrect, and for writing a check on a nonexistent bank account. By regulations, this conviction carried an automatic sentence of dismissal from the army.
At age 21, Flipper became the first Black man graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. In July 1877, he was assigned to the Tenth U. S. Cavalry, one of two African American cavalry regiments organized after the Civil War at the time.
The Trials of Henry Flipper