Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Quarterly 30:1 (Winter 2010)


Copyright 2013 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


In 1881 Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper, the first black graduate of West Point, was accused of embezzlement and conduct unbecoming an officer. A court-martial subsequently found Flipper guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer, but not of the embezzlement charges, and dismissed him from the army. In his 1994 account, The Court-Martial of Lieutenant Henry Flipper, Charles Robinson III concluded that "racism affected the sentence. Dismissal was totally out of line with sentences given to white officers for more serious offences." With this 2008 revision of his earlier work, The Fall of a Black Army Officer, Robinson finds Flipper at fault, not racism in the army. He argues that Flipper "was convicted on proper evidence, in a more than fair trial, and dismissed as he deserved to be." What changed in the interval between publication of the two studies? Certainly Robinson's interpretation; it was affected by another reading, or more, of the trial records, a careful study of Flipper's own accusations and Robinson's inability to locate corroborating evidence for Flipper's side of the story, new materials, support from conclusions in Barry Johnson's, Flipper's Dismissal (1980), as well as an implicit belief in the fairness of the military trial.