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*John Hanks Alexander was born on this date in 1864. He was a 19th century African American military officer.
Alexander was born in Helena, Arkansas, the fourth of seven children born to former slaves James Milo Alexander and Fannie Miller Alexander. James Alexander was a barber and dry goods salesman in Helena and acquired property there. He later became the first Black Justice of the Peace in Arkansas and represented Phillips County in the state legislature. He died in 1871. All of the Alexander children graduated from high school and three attended Oberlin College in Ohio.
John Alexander graduated number one in his high school class in Helena and soon moved to Carrollton, Mississippi to take a position as a teacher. In late 1880, he visited his uncle in Cincinnati, Ohio and ended up remaining in that city. The next year, he enrolled at Oberlin College and attended that institution until passing the entrance examination for West Point in 1883. Alexander was sponsored by U.S. Rep. George W. Geddes of Ohio. During his term at West Point, Alexander was not subjected to as much intolerance as previous black cadets. He an excellent student, especially in mathematics and languages and was a skilled boxer while at the academy. He graduated in the class of 1887 ranking 32nd in a class of 64.
Alexander was assigned to the 9th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Robinson, Nebraska which was an all-black Buffalo soldiers regiment commanded by white officers. In 1888, he was transferred to Fort Washakie, Wyoming for garrison duty typical of an officer with a western frontier posting. While assigned to Fort Duchesne, Utah in 1889, Alexander temporarily led the 9th Cavalry's B Troop, becoming the first black officer in the Army to hold a command position.
In February 1894, Alexander was sent to Wilberforce University as a professor of military science and tactics. Shortly after arriving, he died unexpectedly of a ruptured aorta on March 26, 1894. John Hanks Alexander, the second African American graduate of the United States Military Academy (after Henry Ossian Flipper) was buried with military honors in Xenia, Ohio.