What West Point Can Teach Hollywood — Henry Ossian Flipper

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Henry Ossian Flipper was the first African-American West Point graduate—not in 1970, or 1950, or even in 1930, but in the Class of 1877.

 

Henry Ossian Flipperimage by US Army

Henry Ossian Flipper
image by US Army

 

Henry was born a slave in Georgia in 1856. After the Civil War, he attended Atlanta University, and during his first year, he received an appointment to West Point from US Congressman James C Freeman.

Henry was not the first African-American to attend West Point, but he was the first to graduate.

Life at West Point has never been easy for any cadet, but black cadets suffered the extra stress of racial hatred from some of the senior white cadets. Yet, Flipper survived the rough treatment and graduated.

After receiving a commission as a second lieutenant in the US Army, Flipper was assigned to the US 10th Cavalry Regiment in the Oklahoma Indian Territory, a regiment of black soldiers traditionally led by white officers.

However, the 10th Cavalry moved to Texas before Flipper arrived. Flipper spent three months in Oklahoma supervising engineering projects, including road building and telegraph line construction, before he received orders in October to travel to Texas to join the 10th.

Lieutenant Flipper reported to Captain Nicholas Nolan, and Nolan assigned him to command A Troop of the 10th Cavalry. Nolan treated Flipper as he would any new lieutenant, which engendered hostility from some of the white officers at the fort. Flipper would at times eat at captain Nolan’s dinner table with Nolan’s family. When some of the officers complained, Nolan explained that Flipper was an officer and a gentleman like any other officer at the post.

When the 10th Cavalry was sent to Fort Elliot in Texas, Captain Nolan became the fort commander. He appointed Flipper as his adjutant.

Flipper earned the jealousy of those officers with racist tendencies, and, according to Flipper’s writings, not all of his critics hid their anger. When Captain Nolan’s sister-in-law, Mollie Dwyer, visited Fort Elliot, she and Flipper became friends and would go riding together. Although Captain Nolan and his wife were happy that Mollie was in the company of a trustworthy officer, not everyone at the fort was willing to tolerate a white woman being escorted by a black officer. The disgruntled soldiers began a smear campaign against Flipper. Apparently, officers further up the chain of command accepted Captain Nolan’s opinion of him, and the allegations of impropriety were ignored.

In late 1879, Fort Elliot became involved in a murky plot of sorts.

One night, a federal marshal, Marshal Norton, arrived at the fort and turned over a local judge and some of his supporters for imprisonment. Captain Nolan was required by law to act as jailer for any prisoners turned over by US marshals, but he was suspicious of Norton and his cohorts. The telegraph line at the fort went dead, confirming his suspicions.

Nolan had Flipper and two troopers leave the fort in the middle of the night with the prisoners and escort them to another fort. Marshal Norton and his posse became aware of the midnight prisoner shuffle. They tracked down Flipper’s party and arrested them. One of Flipper’s troopers escaped pursuit and managed to warn Captain Nolan. Captain Nolan lead out a patrol, and they were able to catch up with the marshal.

Now pay attention. This gets tricky.

When the captives, their escort, the captors of the escorts of the captives, and the captors of the captors of the escort of the captives ended up in front of a federal judge, Marshal Norton charged Nolan and Flipper with interfering with justice. The federal judge quickly declared them guilty and fined them each $1,000. As soon as Marshal Norton disappeared into the sunset, though, the judge suspended his own ruling and sent the soldiers happily on their way.

In 1879, Flipper was assigned to G Troop of the 10th Cavalry. During the 10th Cavalry’s participation in the ongoing Apache Wars, he served with distinction.

In late 1880, Flipper was assigned to Fort Davis and appointed as the fort’s quartermaster officer. In March of 1881, Colonel William Shafter took command of Fort Davisand relieved Lieutenant Flipper of his responsibility as quartermaster officer without any explanation. Shafter was outspoken about his dislike of having black officers in the Army.

When money went unaccounted for in the commissary records, Shafter blamed Flipper. He was court marshaled for embezzlement and “conduct unbecoming an officer.” The court found Flipper innocent of the embezzlement charges, but guilty of the catch-all charge of conduct unbecoming an officer. He was dismissed from the Army. I have been unable to locate any evidence of any serious wrongdoing to support his dismissal.

After leaving the Army, Flipper pursued a successful engineering career in Texas, Mexico, and Venezuela. He volunteered for service in the Spanish-American war of 1892, but his petition for reinstatement never received review.

In 1921, Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall appointed Flipper as his assistant.

Henry Ossian Flipper passed away in Atlanta Georgia in 1940. In 1976, Flipper’s descendants petitioned the Army to review his case.

The Army no longer had authority to overturn the century-old court-martial conviction, but it found that the conviction was unjust, and it was able to issue a posthumous honorable discharge.

In 1997, a law firm applied for a full pardon for Flipper.

Applications for executive pardons for courts-martial are almost always dismissed as a matter of policy. Fortunately, President Clinton took time to actually review the application, and he issued a full pardon of Henry Flipper in 1999. The pardon came 59 years too late for Flipper to enjoy the moment of vindication, but at least the record has been set straight for his family.

Henry Flipper’s history is important because it shows that as early as 1873, when Flipper entered West Point, some of the US Army’s leadership recognized the simple truth of human equality.

This was long before African-Americans were even able to vote in many districts throughout the nation. When we juxtapose Flipper’s 1877 graduation from West Point with Rosa Park’s 1955 refusal to surrender her bus seat to a white rider, it forms something of a kaleidoscopic image of the irregular and somewhat jagged process of social change in America.

Often, civilians view the US Army as being ruled by medieval-minded WASPs who are doing their best to protect their Army from the dangers of progressive thinking. But in the case of Henry Flipper, the West Point establishment was one of the more progressive segments of society in 1877. It was an imperfect Army, and in the end Flipper did, indeed, fall victim to racism. But Flipper got further there than he could have in most national institutions in 1877.

When Barack Obama became the first African-American elected President in 2008, Hollywood and TV media outlets were quick to point out that they had been “ahead of the curve” because they had portrayed African-American presidents on the screen. My, oh, my! How generous those Hollywood folks are.

Actor and self-appointed social justice guardian George Clooney has explained that Hollywood leads America in progressive thinking and creates progressive trends. Georgie apparently fails to recognize that, while the US has an African-American president, and the US military had an African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appointed by President Bush in 1989, no major Hollywood studio has had a black CEO. The supposedly socially and politically liberal Screen Actors Guild also has yet to have an African-American president.

I wonder when the Hollywood Guardians of Progressive Thinking and their cousins in TV World will catch up to the 1877 West Point staff or the modern American voters. It will be a great day for America if it ever happens.

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We are They

By Piper Bayard

Remember all of those Jeff Foxworthy “you might be a redneck if” jokes? I didn’t know I was a redneck until Jeff Foxworthy identified me.

“If you’ve ever honked at chickens while pulling into your driveway . . .”

Chickens in driveway canstock

Didn’t everybody?

“If there are more than five McDonald’s bags in your car . . .”

Hey. I needed something to cover the bare springs on the front seat, and that cheap old tablecloth I hid them with was kind of pretty.

“If you met your spouse at a family reunion . . .”

Well, we didn’t actually meet at a family reunion, but we could have. It’s a long story.

So when I went to law school in my 1969 Volkswagen Beetle that left me stranded more times than I “forgot” to look for my toddlers while playing hide and seek, let’s just say it was something of a culture shock.

I remember getting my class schedule and wondering why I had a class in “torts.” Weren’t torts* fancy French pies? I’d only just learned that, and I was still proud of being so worldly.

I sat through my first two weeks, reading opinions by Mr. Justice Black, Mr. Justice Douglas, Mr. Justice Stevens, etc. and thinking, “Boy, there sure are a lot of judges named ‘Justice.’” No, I’m not making that up.

It wasn’t just the classes that had me feeling like I’d wandered into the Twilight Zone. It was the people. I’d just spent almost a decade living in the poverty culture of New Mexico with one foot on the street and the other on a banana peel. So when my upper class classmates would say they were broke, I would invite them over for dinner and send them home with the leftovers. That’s what decent people do, right? They thought I was insane. After a year or so, I finally grasped that “broke” in trust fund lingo meant going skiing at Copper instead of at Aspen this week.

But the biggest shock of all was finding out that no one was out to get me. Living in a poverty culture, I became ingrained with the “They” mentality.

They are out to get Us, making mandatory insurance laws so we have to choose between eating this week and insuring our cars. They are trying to keep Us down by raising tuition costs because They don’t want Us in school with their kids. They are always profiling Us because They are afraid of Us.

Along with that perception was the idea that They never have to work for what They have. They are all greedy and privileged and look down their noses at Us.

image from openclipart.org

Are you perceiving a bad attitude on my part? You betcha. I didn’t just have a chip on my shoulder, I was proud of having earned the chip on my shoulder. I went to law school to become a warrior for my people, the poor and downtrodden, against the tyranny of They.

As you might guess, I was not the only person who showed up on the doorstep of the Hall of Learning thinking that I knew something and wanting to teach the world a thing or two. I found, in fact, that law school was a distillation of bad attitude. A collection of shoulder chips, and, to my surprise, many of those resentments were directed at me.

While the majority of my fellow students of all races and faiths were stellar individuals, I also knew wealthy African-Americans who would not speak to me because I was white. A few wealthy Latinos told me outright they would not work with me because I was white. I knew Native Americans who treated me with disdain because I’m white. And I knew people of all races and financial classes who would have nothing to do with any of us, not because of our races or our financial classes, but because of our bad attitudes.

In summary, I was standing there pointing a finger at wealthy people of all races and faiths, only to turn around and find many wealthy minorities pointing a finger at me, finding me indistinguishable from the people I labeled as “They.”

Is this sounding incredibly stupid yet?

That’s when I learned one of the most important lessons of my life. We are They. Each of us is a “They” to someone, and that someone is probably someone we don’t even know exists.

The fact is that I loved being different and special in my sense of persecution. I loved thinking I was important enough for entire groups of people to conspire against me at a governmental level. It gave me a tribe. A people. An identity, an enemy, and a purpose. But it was a lie. A self-deception of perverted elitism that kept me from succeeding in life, because the bottom line is that no one wants to work with an assclown.

I buried my chip and opened my heart. It was a struggle to find a new sense of self with so much of my identity having been tied up in being a redneck reject from a place where there were only two colors of people, Poor and They. But what I found was that, though people live and relate differently at different financial levels, there are genuinely good people everywhere, and while some people are actively hostile, they are the true minority.

When have you been a fish out of water? When has your attitude held you back?

All the best to all of you for a week of harmonious integration.

*A tort, for those of you who, like me, didn’t know, is a civil negligence case. For example, if you bring a civil lawsuit over a car wreck, it is a tort.

The End is Near (and we deserve it) . . . Dead Mice Chess Pieces

Taxidermy Chess: Play with Rooks and Dead Rodents

Because jade, onyx, wood, pottery, crystal, resin, plastic and origami chess sets are passé.

Taxidermied Mice Chess Set Etsy

For the rest of the mashup, click on the link below to come to our new website. Remember to subscribe while you’re there. We would hate to lose you in the move.

Bayard & Holmes

The End is Near (and we deserve it) . . .

Dead Mice Chess Pieces

42–The Jackie Robinson Story

By Piper Bayard

42, starring Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, and Nicole Beharie, tells a story of African-American Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough into the world of major league baseball. It covers Robinson’s life from the time he was first hired to play for the Dodgers’ affiliate, the Montreal Royals, through his rookie year with the Dodgers.

42 movie poster

Jackie Robinson used his life to write a story of pioneering talent and determination, from being UCLA’s first 4-letter athlete and a 2nd lieutenant and platoon leader in the U.S. Army during WWII, to becoming the first ever major league baseball Rookie of the Year. He was an extraordinary man and an outstanding baseball player. Too bad this movie isn’t about him.

Instead, 42 is about the deity commonly referred to as “Jackie Robinson.” The movie isn’t even shy about Robinson’s deity status, making several overt correlations between him and Jesus Christ, with his only “flaw” being an occasional reasonable display of temper. I can’t help but think that Jackie Robinson the Man might have cringed at the explicit comparisons with the Son of God.

That said, the acting in this movie is excellent. Most of the characters are written as 21st century politically correct racial stereotypes. However, the actors do a great job in spite of their, if you will forgive me, black and white roles, and their performances were excellent to a person.

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in 42

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in 42

Chadwick Boseman, a graduate of Howard University and a former student of the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, England, is exceptional as Jackie Robinson. He took Hollywood’s character profile of a deity and almost convinced me he was playing an actual historical figure rather than a mythical hero. He is the antithesis of Kristen Stewart with his range of facial expressions, and he has a lovely smile that I look forward to seeing in another movie. Soon, if possible.

Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in 42

Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in 42

Harrison Ford, always a welcome favorite, is gifted by the writers in having a well-rounded character to play in the form of Branch Rickey. He did a great job with it.

Nicole Beharie also deserves recognition for her portrayal of Rachel, Jackie Robinson’s wife. It’s not mentioned in the movie, but Rachel Robinson went on to become an Assistant Professor at Yale School of Nursing and the Director of Nursing at the Connecticut Mental Health Center. Beharie is more than believable playing that accomplished, graceful young woman in the movie who would, herself, make contributions to history in her own right.

Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson in 42

Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson in 42

I do not want to diminish Jackie Robinson the Man’s accomplishments. I have the greatest respect for him and for the uphill battle he faced. There is no question that Robinson suffered considerable racism both on and off the diamond. And, to the best of my knowledge, the movie is accurate in its portrayal of Phillies manager Ben Chapman, the Phillies, and the Cardinals, who were notable in their racial abuse.

However, unlike the movie portrayal, Robinson was not the only black player in the Montreal Royals. In fact, the International League had a number of minorities in their ranks at the time he joined. Also, the Brooklyn Dodgers largely welcomed him to their team with only a handful of his teammates objecting. Throughout the baseball world, there were mixed reactions to opening major league baseball teams to racial minorities, and for every white person who was against it, there was another white person who would not have cared if Robinson was a Martian as long as he could hit. Young people watching this movie would never know that.

Jackie Robinson LOOK, v. 19, no. 4, 1955 Feb. 22, p. 78 Photo by Bob Sandberg, LOOK Photographer

Jackie Robinson
LOOK, v. 19, no. 4, 1955 Feb. 22, p. 78
Photo by Bob Sandberg, LOOK Photographer

I give this movie a .38 Special rating*. That means I was glad I saw it at the matinée, and I’m actually glad I saw it. The actors’ performances were worth the trip in spite of the fact that the movie struck me as the cinematic equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade painting. Light was cast from a dedicated perspective. I believe it disrespects and dehumanizes the extraordinary man and amazing ballplayer, Jackie Robinson, by reducing him to a stereotypical hero/deity rather than presenting him as he was. The reality of the great human man who inspired generations of children of all races would have been the better story.

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*Our Movie Rating System:

  • Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.
  • .22 rim fire:  Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.
  • .380: Go to the matinée if someone else is paying.
  • .38 special: Worth paying for the matinée yourself.
  • .357 magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.
  • .44 magnum: Must see this. Potentially life-altering event.